Year of the Echinacea

By Susan Littlefield

If you'd like to grow gorgeous flowers that are easy to care for -- and roll out the welcome mat for butterflies, bees, and birds -- echinacea, commonly called coneflower, is the plant for you! These central and eastern North American natives are so attractive and useful in the garden that 2014 had been chose by the National Garden as the Year of the Echinacea.

Most popular in gardens is the purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. But don't be misled by the common name. The drooping rays of daisy-like purple coneflower blossoms are more pink than purple. And breeders have been busy coming up with an ever-increasing range of colors and flower forms to choose from. From icy 'White Swan' to orange 'Tiki Torch', light green 'Green Jewel' to yellow 'Mac 'n' Cheese', there are cultivars to fit just about any color scheme. 'Doubledecker' and 'Pink Poodle' sport two-tiered blooms, as does 'Coconut Lime', topped with a lime-green pop-pom for its center cone.

For those interested in natural landscaping, there are a number of other native echinaceas to choose from. Pale purple coneflower (E. pallida) is distinguished by its very thin, pale pink, drooping ray petals set off by a coppery-orange center cone. Narrow-leaved purple coneflower (E. angustifolia) is a drought-tolerant prairie denizen that blooms earlier in the season than purple coneflower.

All echinaceas are good choices for those interested in low-maintenance gardening. Give then full sun to light shade, especially in hotter climates. They are not fussy about soil as long drainage is good and are drought tolerant once established. Divide every few years to keep plants vigorous.

To find out more about the history, care, and culture of coneflowers, along with a descriptive list of popular varieties, go to National Garden Bureau. (Image courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

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