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Echinacea Nation

Oh how far the rather drab coneflower has come, simple little purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. Once merely the love child of native plant enthusiasts and plant ecologists she now graces the cover of nearly every plant catalog like the “it” supermodel of the plant kingdom.

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For years available only in pinkish lavender and occasionally white it now has its petals dyed every shade of yellow and orange, even red. And the pinkish lavender? Well, now it’s every thing from soft true pink to deepest rose. Not content to merely change her petal color Echinacea has teased herself and added braids and weaves til she’s jacked that cone all the way up to Jesus. She’s sipping Merlot After Midnight at the end of a day of partying from Sunrise to Sunset. At Twilight it was off to another event with her friend Ruby Giant who seems to have developed a Fatal Attraction over a Flame Thrower. Lunch was Mac ‘N’ Cheese and Tomato Soup. Indeed little Echinacea has arrived.

What changed Echinacea so much? Exposure to diversity (Imagine, just like people!)

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Plant breeders decided to see what would happen when they crossed the many species of the pinkish and white coneflowers with the odd-plant out of the group, the Yellow Coneflower, Echinacea paradoxa.

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Don’t you love that? Paradoxa. You know, it’s a paradox that it’s yellow. Or at least that’s how I see it. Anyway, this addition of yellow brought about all sorts of colors. Chicago Botanical Garden led the way with the first releases, followed quickly by the Saul brothers down in Alpharetta, Georgia. Since then just about every person with two plants has a breeding program.  One cannot ignore the other major factor affecting the change which was selection within the already established plant species especially Echinacea purpurea.

With so many to choose from it can be difficult to pick. I’m just going to touch on a few. Trial and error will weed out the undeserving in time. I love many of the new cultivars but have also seen them blooming beautifully with the stems lying on the ground because they can’t support the flowers. I don’t mind doing some staking but it is an area breeders need to work on.

The species types can be very nice in their own right. Echinacea pallida, pale purple coneflower, has narrow drooping petals.

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These E. tennesseensis hybrids in the IMA Horticultural Society Overlook behind Deer Zink show their mixed parentage with diverse leaf types, flower types, and petal colors.

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A gift from Angela Treadwell-Palmer of Plants Nouveau gave us the opportunity to try 3 new white coneflowers in the upper cutting garden, all of them Echinacea purpurea selections. ‘Avalanche’  is a shorter plant than average, around 2 feet tall.

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‘Champagne Bubbles’ gets its name I think from the color that appears in the cone.

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Nice but not earth shattering, but if it stays upright with minimum staking and has a long bloom time, then it’s still very good. The one I am really excited about is ‘Milkshake’, a double that is supposed to remain white even as it ages.

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I’m hoping she will give us some ‘Hot Papaya’ to trial. Puh-leeease Angela! I need ‘Hot Papaya’.

We have had some of the Big Sky series of coneflowers from Itsaul Plants for a few years. In the Garden for Everyone, the Sutphin Mall, and on the Tunnel you will find Sundown.

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Also on the Tunnel is a large swath of Twilight.

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When the rain garden off the Greenhouse parking lot is completed in a couple weeks we will have a third member of this group, Summer Sky. Overall these have been very good plants in all aspects.

Another selection of Echinacea purpurea that has proven to be a very good choice is ‘Ruby Giant’. You can find it in the Formal Garden. It has richly colored larger than normal flowers, excellent plant habit as well.

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The people who brought us every possible Heuchera have also been working on coneflower. Dan Heims at Terra Nova is well-known in the plant world to say the least. When I saw the pictures of some of their new Echinaceas it was full-on lust. But I cast a wary eye as so often pictures used in catalogues are quite simply a lie. Not so with Terra Nova’s plants. I have both ‘Tiki Torch’ and ‘Tomato Soup’ blooming in my home garden as I write this. They are HOT! I love the non-fading orange of ‘Tiki Torch’.

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‘Tomato Soup’ absolutely glows.

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My ‘Mac ‘n’ Cheese’ has its first bud. Can-not-wait.

Now. I’m usually real persnickety with cultivar and trademark names but in this case have played very loosey-goosey. You have plenty of links in this posting however to guide you to the proper nomenclature. I just didn’t have time to get all fancy.

Filed under: Horticulture, Musings

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