Sunday, July 7, 2013
Purple Coneflower - Echinacea purpurea
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a common wildflower throughout much of the eastern half of North America, but exceedingly rare in Florida. Resident to only a few limestone glades in Gadsden County, purple coneflower is listed here as a state endangered species.
In these glades communities, it occurs in open to partially sunny openings, in well-drained soil that has a rather high pH. These are not the same conditions this plant is found in further north. Purple coneflower is a perennial that dies back completely to the ground in winter. A basal rosette of noticeably toothed, arrow-shaped leaves emerges in spring. Each leaf is deep green and up to 6 inches long. They are rough to the touch. Multiple flower stalks arise from inside these rosettes in spring and flowering occurs over a protracted period in summer. The large showy blooms are several inches across with pink to lavender ray petals and a central disk of spiky greenish brown ones. Purple coneflower attracts a very diverse assortment of pollinating insects and there is always someting nectaring on it. In sunny areas, these flowers stand several feet tall, but in the shade (like the photos taken above) they can reach 3-4 feet tall.
The vast majority of purple coneflower being propagated here in Florida does not come from Florida stock, which is why so many people tell me that their plants act like annuals. Seed and plants from areas to our north do not perform well in Florida and should be avoided if you do not wish to replant it each spring. Dan Miller, of Trillium Gardens in Tallahassee, has been propagating his purple coneflower from Florida plants. My stock came from his and it has done well in Pinellas County and has lasted now for 2 years without sign of wasting away. The same is true of the specimens photographed above in the landscape of a friend in Gainesville.
In Florida, purple coneflower seems to do best when used in partly sunny locations. It is drought tolerant and does not require limey soils, but do not plant it anywhere that does not drain well. I like it mixed with other medium-tall wildflowers, in patches of no less than 3 plants, preferably more than 5. Just make sure your plants come originally from the Florida population. Don't be fooled by those who tell you it came from plants grown in Florida - most of those are not Florida genetic stock, but out-of-state stock grown in a Florida garden. I have tried plenty of those in the past and every time I have, the plants died after the first year.