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The name Echinops is derived from Greek echinos meaning “hedgehog” and ops meaning appearance. Together it refers to the spiky hedgehog-like appearance of the flower head. This same derivative can be noticed in Echinacea (coneflower) referring to “hedgehog” as the spiky cone in the center.
Echinops is in the Asteraceae family, related to asters and sunflowers. Depending on the species, it can get about 3 feet up to 7 feet tall.
Echinops, also known as small globe thistle, produces an inflorescence (collection of inconspicuous flowers) that is shaped like a spiky globe, about 2” across. It has a basal rosette of silvery-green thistle-like foliage. This spiny foliage continues up the flowering stem. The flowering stems can be branching or singular, depending on the health and vigor of the plant. It produces a large taproot, making it difficult to pull out or transplant once mature. Its native range is central and eastern Europe to Asia.
In history, the roots of Echinops were used as an anthelmintic agent, meaning it would destroy parasitic worms. It was also said to be a galactagogue, which promotes the secretion of milk in breastfeeding women. It is not conventionally used in medicine today.
The flowers turn the color determined by the cultivar, ranging from white to bright blue. The most popular Echinops purchased are the cultivars which turn a steel blue color. The color lasts for 5 - 8 weeks in bloom, and slowly fades as the plant goes to seed. However, if the stalks are left to go to seed, the color comes back when the seeds drop and it persists until the stalk is cut down.
Echinops is a hardy perennial in zones 3 - 8, however it more easily self-sows as the hardiness level increases. Some locations in higher zones feel as if it can be really aggressive with new seedling emergence every year. If that effect is undesired, it is very easy to deadhead the flowering stems and prevent seeding. If it is desired, keep an eye out in the spring for the seedling emergence and make sure to keep the ones where you want Echinops to grow and weed out the rest.
It prefers soils to be acidic, ranging from 5.1 – 6.5 in pH. It can tolerate drought, poor nutrients, and a wide variety of soil types, so long as it is well-drained. Echinops will not grow well if it is in an area that will hold onto water, or be in sitting water. It grows best in full sun, and pairs beautifully in companion plantings with other full sun summer perennials such as coneflower, phlox, bee balm, and catmint.
42 – 46” tall, 18 – 24” wide
More compact form with blue bloom.
48 – 60” tall, 24 – 36” wide
Taller with less flowering stalks and blue bloom.
Echinops should be a top contender in your perennial garden! Selecting varieties from a frosty white to a steel blue, its texture and color stand out. It provides a reliable presence every year, with very little care necessary once it is established and happy.
Aside from its unique color and texture, it attracts pollinators and birds. It is perfect for a pollinator garden, buzzing with life from butterflies to bees. Birds are attracted to the seeds, making it great for wildlife and bird gardens as well.
Glove protection is necessary to use when handling this plant due to its sharp spines. However, this defense also means it is equally as difficult for herbivores to touch, let alone eat, the plant.
Therefore, it is a great choice in locations where deer or rabbit browse is very common. It is relatively pest and disease free, making maintenance very easy once it is planted it the right location!
Equally, Echinops should have a deserved spot in your cutting garden. Its stems are very stiff and sturdy, allowing it to last for a long time as a cut flower. Alternatively, it can be easily dried and still retain its color, making it popular for dry arrangements as well. It adds a beautiful sharp and angular texture to flower arrangements that is hard to find in other cut flowers.
About the Author: Cassandra Barr is a passionate horticulturist and environmentalist. She loves to investigate the connections and ecology of all things, and has a particular interest in the role of plants within that complicated web.
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