03 July 2009

Coneflowers - Echinacea - for Every Garden

Coneflowers are showing up everywhere, blooming in open fields, roadways and flowerbeds. Their humble origins aside, there are now dozens of colors to choose from. And, all have the same preference for making their best flower display on hot, dry summer days.

There is some confusion about Echinaceas among gardeners because sometimes Black Eyed Susans are called Coneflowers. The brown centered orange-yellow wild flower is actually a Rudbeckia not an Echinacea.


Both are members of the perennial Aster family that includes chrysanthemums, sunflowers and Asters. The botanical name Echinacea is from the Greek word echinos meaning hedgehog, referring to the appearance of the center cone.


Large stands of Echinacea used to be common across the central and eastern parts of North America (http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ECPU ).


The perceived herbal medicine benefits of Echinacea roots and stems have led to the plants being illegally removed from the wild and sold to pharmaceutical companies.


The National Institutes for Health tested Echinacea and found that the claimed health benefits of curing colds and infections cannot be supported by science.


Between the natives and hybrids,coneflowers are a favorite in both formal and informal settings. Birds, hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the blooms and the sturdy stems make them great cut flowers.


Echinacea is easy to grow in well-drained soil. The seeds can be planted directly into the garden before the last frost in April or indoors in February. They bloom best in full sun but can take some afternoon shade.


If a clump of the plant shows signs of overcrowding, dig it up in the early spring, divide the root into pieces and replant it.


To use the blooms as dried flowers, cut them when they first open and hang the stems upside down in a dark, airy space such as an attic. Any flower heads left in the garden at the end of the summer will be cleaned off by goldfinches.


Muskogee Farmer’s Market cut flower vendor, Kim Walton, said she will have 2-flats of Echinacea purpurea plants available for sale on a first come basis tomorrow (Saturday July 4).


Echinacea purpurea, also called Rudbeckia purpurea, has red-tinted green stems. The 5-inch flower heads are centered with an orange-red central disk and partly reflexed purple-red petals (the petals fold down away from the seedhead).


Park Seed (www.parkseed.com) has seeds of Green Wizard, Coneflower Magnus, White Swan, Bravado and a seed collection.


If you would like to plant seeds of native coneflowers a few of the mailorder sources include: Echinacea purpurea- easywildflowers.com, Echinacea angustifolia, narrow leaf Purple Coneflower - horizonherbs.com, and Echinacea pallida, Pale Coneflower - americanmeadows.com.


Sources for the new hybrid plants include: Wayside Gardens (www.waysidegardens.com) offers Echinacea in a dozen colors and White Flower Farm (whiteflowerfarm.com) has 24 offers.


Some of the hybrids to look for include:

Echinacea Bravado - rose-red flowers, Finale White - single cream white flowers with green-brown central disks, Leuchtstern Bright Star - purple-red flowers, Magnus - dark orange central disks and deep purple flowers, Robers Bloom - dark brown centers and mauve-crimson flowers, White Lustre - orange centers and cream flowers and White Swan - white flowers up to 5 inches across with orange centers.


Coconut Lime - white and pale green – a new introduction last year that grows to 2-feet tall when established.

Echinacea Pink Double Delight - frilly pink center and is circled by 6 oval pink petals. Razzmatazz is a similar color and larger.


Some of the new cultivars are being called Meadowbrite. For example, Mango Meadowbrite and Orange meadowbrite.


Whether you prefer a mass of native coneflowers or a bed of assorted hybrid colors, shapes and sizes, there are several carefree choices for every gardener’s taste.

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