DRC_Purple Coneflower, photo courtesy of Marilyn Blanton.jpg

Purple coneflower is an herbaceous perennial in the sunflower family. It grows about 1 to 2 feet wide and 2 to 4 feet tall in bloom.

DRC_Becca Dickstein

Becca Dickstein

Summer is almost here — perhaps you’ll think about planting purple coneflower?

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) bloom in late May to early June and intermittently through the end of summer in North Texas. Their daisy-like flowers are held high on top of their stems. The showy flowers span 2.5 to 5 inches across. Each flower has 10 to 20 pink to lavender ray florets surrounding a central yellowish- to reddish-brown cone of numerous disk florets. The cone may be flattened and is prickly. The ray petals lean downward with age.

Purple coneflower is an herbaceous perennial in the sunflower family. It grows about 1 to 2 feet wide and 2 to 4 feet tall in bloom. Its dark green, hairy-rough, alternate or opposite leaves are up to 6 inches long and 3 inches wide, and are smaller at the top of the stems. Purple coneflower is drought, heat and poor-soil tolerant. Purple coneflower’s common and genus names reflect its flower characteristics. Echinacea comes from the Greek echinos, meaning spiny or prickly, while purpurea refers to the petal color of wild purple coneflower. Coneflower describes the flower’s center shape.

Thanks to modern plant breeding, you can now have purple coneflower in different colors and several different sizes besides the type found in nature. Numerous cultivars of purple coneflower are now available in nurseries, in different heights, with petal colors ranging from white to deep orange to deep red and with different colored flower cones.

Purple coneflower thrives in part shade to sun and a range of soil types. During long dry spells, it may appreciate supplemental water if planted in full sun. Like many other native Texas plants, it must have good drainage.

Purple coneflower is great in border, meadow, prairie, cutting and native plant gardens, as well as woodland gardens in part-sun. It will tolerate being grown in a large container. The plants will grow in size each year and may be divided every four to five years by digging up the clump, lifting it out of the ground and breaking it apart by hand. This is important for propagating the cultivars, because they will not breed true from seed.

Purple coneflower may also be propagated by cuttings and will self-seed if the spent flowers are not removed. Purple coneflower attracts butterflies as well as native bees and its seed in the dried flower heads feeds fall and winter birds. The cut flowers are long-lasting in bouquets.

Various parts of purple coneflower are used as herbal medicine, but please don’t count on me for medical advice. Consider using purple coneflower instead of exotic Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) or African daisies (Osteospermum) species. Companion plants for purple coneflower include mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

Look for the NICE! Plant of the Season signs and information sheets at a participating North Texas nursery. Participating nurseries include Denton’s Meador Nursery, Hartwell’s Nursery in Lewisville and Painted Flower Farm and Shades of Green Nursery in Frisco. Thank you for using native plants in your landscapes.

BECCA DICKSTEIN, a member of the Trinity Forks Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, is on the University of North Texas biological sciences faculty.

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