Choose the Best Coneflowers

By Susan Littlefield

Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) are long-time garden favorites, adding easy-care color to the garden in mid to late summer. Recent efforts by plant breeders have added an array of choices of colors, sizes, flower form and bloom time to this native perennial. To help gardeners select the best from among these new offerings, the Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware evaluated 43 new cultivars and 5 species over a three year period. Their top picks received high ratings for good habit, disease and pest resistance, abundant flowering and winter hardiness. While the research focused on coneflower performance in the mid-Atlantic region, the findings will be helpful to gardeners in other parts of the country as they choose among the many coneflowers now available.

Those that received high marks included Pixie Meadowbrite™ (Echinacea 'CBG Cone 2'), an extremely floriferous tri-species hybrid with a compact growth habit, and the Echinacea purpurea cultivars 'Pica Bella,' 'Elton Knight,' 'Fatal Attraction,' and 'Vintage Wine.' 'Pica Bella' has a sturdy, vase-shaped habit and unique, star-like, pinkish-magenta flowers. 'Elton Knight' is compact, with broad-petaled, brilliant magenta blossoms. 'Fatal Attraction' has an upright, columnar habit and vivid pink flowers borne on deep burgundy to nearly black stems. 'Vintage Wine' has an excellent upright habit, deep pinkish-purple blooms and dark stems. Two other species also made the grade— pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) bearing 3-4" wide flowers with silvery-pink drooping petals, and Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseenis) with unique cupped petals with notched tips.

The highest rated white coneflower was E. purpurea 'White Angel'; the hybrid 'Sunrise' was the pick for yellow blossoms and 'Tiki Torch' hybrid for orange. Other picks included E. purpurea 'Hope' for light pink flowers; E. 'Twilight' for dwarf habit; E. purpurea 'Coconut Lime' for uniquely-shaped flowers; and E. purpurea 'Sparkler' for variegated foliage.

Mt. Cuba Center is a non-profit horticultural institution in northern Delaware dedicated to the study, conservation and appreciation of plants native to the Appalachian Piedmont region through garden display, education and research. They have also completed evaluations of aster species native to eastern North America and are in the process of evaluating Coreopsis cultivars.

For the complete 2009 coneflower research report, go to Coneflowers for the Mid-Atlantic Region. For information on Mt. Cuba Center and its research, classes, tours and publications, go to Mt. Cuba Center.

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