Favorite Natives – Coneflower (Echinacea)

Coneflowers are one of those native flowers that is beautiful, long-blooming, attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds, and offers medicinal benefit to us. What else can you ask for in a flower?

The genus name, Echinacea, comes from the Greek ‘echino’, which means hedgehog. I guess the Greeks thought the spiny, brownish seed head of the flower looked like a hedgehog. Native Americans call the plant ‘elk root’ because they saw elk seeking out the plants when they were sick or wounded.

Purple coneflowers perennials that grow 2-5 feet and bloom in late summer and early fall, right when migrating birds and butterflies need the food and when bees need that last bit of nectar to get them through the winter.

If you want to plant for wildlife, stick with native Echinacea species. The newer varieties are not naturally occurring; they are hybrid (deliberate crosses) between different species of Echinacea. Many of these hybrids are sterile so there are no seeds for birds.

Native coneflower species are:
Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf Coneflower
Echinacea atrorubens – Topeka Purple Coneflower
Echinacea laevigata – Smooth Coneflower, Smooth Purple Coneflower
Echinacea pallida – Pale Purple Coneflower
Echinacea paradoxa – Yellow Coneflower, Bush’s Purple Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower, Eastern Purple Coneflower
Echinacea sanguinea – Sanguine purple Coneflower
Echinacea simulata – Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower
Echinacea tennesseensis – Tennessee Coneflower

The flowers of Echinacea are used to make herbal tea, which can help strengthen the immune system. Echinacea angustifolia was widely used by the North American Plains Indians to treat coughs, sore throats, and headaches.

Mary Pellerito is a Michigan-based garden and nature writer. Mary is a member of the Garden Writer’s Association, Wild Ones, and she is a Master Gardener.  This article was previously published on her blog Going Native.

To find plants for sale locally, check Pick-A-Pepper.com.

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