This week we are taking a closer look at Echinacea purpurea, commonly known as purple coneflower. The scientific name, ‘Echinacea‘ is actually derived from the Greek word ‘ekhinos’, which means ‘hedgehog’. This is due to the spiny central disc present in the flowers of this species.
Flowers within a flower?
It will probably come as no surprise, that E. purpurea is a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), as the flowers do resemble daisy flowers, albeit much larger. Truth be told, the flowers of this family are not what they seem. What looks like an individual flower is actually a cluster of many tiny flowers, a type of inflorescence known as a composite flower. These tiny flowers consist of two types; disc florets and ray florets. Disc florets are the flowers which form the cone-like centre of the inflorescence and ray florets are the structures which resemble petals around the outside of the inflorescence. The disc florets are where nectar and pollen is produced to attract pollinators in order to reproduce. If successfully pollinated, each of these tiny florets in the centre will produce seed. With how many tiny flowers are present, its no wonder these plants are such a great source of food for seed loving birds.
Echinacea purpurea favours a light, loam soil, rich in nutrients. Once established they do well in dry soils and can tolerate drought periods. As for light exposure, E. purpurea enjoys a sunny position where it can soak up all those rays of sunshine to fuel the production of large beautiful blooms, typical of this species.
While there is only a small selection of Echinacea cultivars available, there is a lovely variety of colours ranging from various shades of pink, to orange or white. Some of these beauties are included below.
Echinacea pupurea ‘Magnus’
This variety is more typical of the original species, Echinacea purpurea, with its deep pink rays and the orange-brown cone at the centre.
Echinacea ‘Tangerine Dream’
‘Tangerine Dream’ is a variety with lovely orange rays surrounding a yellowy-green, brown central disc.
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’
Unlike the aforementioned varieties, ‘White Swan’ has a compact growth habit with white rays surrounding a dull yellow central disc.
Along with many other members of the daisy family, Echinacea attract many species of pollinators including the Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io), Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly (Aglais urticae), Gatekeeper Butterfly (Pyronia tithonus), Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), moths and bees. They all enjoy the nectar and pollen provided by this beautiful plant. But it’s contribution to the wildlife community doesn’t end there, come autumn, birds will enjoy the seeds produced in the plants abundant seedheads.
Not only is Echinacea a great plant for wildlife and a beautiful sight to behold, it also has several uses in herbalism. In Germany alone, more than 800 products are marketed which contain Echinacea. It is most commonly used for it’s antiviral and immune system stimulating qualities, which has resulted in many people consuming Echinacea in tincture or capsule form to ward off cold and flu viruses. Both the above ground parts and the roots of this plant can be used in herbal medicine, however if in doubt be sure to seek advice from a herbal practitioner before attempting to use the plant medicinally.
Wildlife & Eco Gardens can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.