What can you find in the garden that is tall, purple, and named after a hedgehog? Echinacea, of course! Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog, because of the spiny centers of the flower heads. I am sure that many are familiar with the purple coneflower because of its popularity in the Eastern United States. What makes it so special? Echinacea has become a very commonly used flower because it is so easy to grow and very tolerant of weather conditions and garden pests that we are all too familiar with here in Indiana.
Echinacea purpurea, also known as purple coneflower, is native to meadows, prairies, and woodland edges where they are able to receive the most sunlight. It is drought tolerant, heat tolerant, deer tolerant, and even tolerant of clay soil. With just those three factors it is easy to see why the use of Echinacea is so widespread. As long as your coneflowers are in a spot where they can receive full sun, you will have the benefit of their summer long bloom time usually from July until September. Pruning before flowering will delay bloom time and allow you to have fresh, new blooms later in the season. Most people like to cut back all of the dead heads at the end of the flowering season to prevent the massive amounts of reseeding. However, if you like to help feed the birds in the colder months, leaving the seed heads on the coneflowers provide plenty of seed for birds such as golden finches and juncos. Just be sure to prepare yourself for all the coneflower seedlings that will show up in the spring if you do not remove the seed heads.
Not only do coneflowers benefit the bird population in the fall, but they also aid the insect population during its flowering season. During the summer, bees and butterflies can be spotted feeding on the nectar and, in late August, you may even find soldier beetles. The soldier beetle is a beneficial insect that feeds on those pesky aphids as well as other soft-bodied insects. So be sure not to harm these particular beetles as they are causing no harm to the plant itself. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Japanese beetles. If there are signs that something is eating away at your coneflowers, it is most likely this pesky critter. Along with Japanese beetles, aphids and eriophyid mites are also problematic to these plants. Sadly insects aren’t the only force of nature that coneflowers have to contend with. Some disease problems to watch out for are powdery mildew, anthracnose, and aster yellows. But, as with any other type of plant, proper care and maintenance can help prevent your coneflowers from falling victim to these diseases.
On the much brighter and more beautiful side, the Echinacea have eight to none different species to choose from that are all tough plants which can withstand the weather conditions in the Central and Eastern United States. Echinacea is no longer just purple coneflowers, but pretty pinks, reds, oranges and whites too. Here at the IMA, you will see the first clusters of Echinacea as you walk down the mall. Walking down the sidewalk past the overlook you will notice the bright pink ‘Southern Belle’ cultivar. The Garden for Everyone has a nice section devoted to ‘Sundown’. And you can’t miss all of the coneflowers in the Four Seasons Garden. It is a beautiful summer with so many wonderful Echinacea to see.