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2014: Year of the Echinacea
by NGB
May 25, 2014

Echinacea was chosen as the perennial for the National Garden Bureau’s 2014 Year of program because of the vast assortment of flower colors and shapes available to today’s gardener but also because they are such an American staple. The classic flower shape continues to be a favorite in home and public gardens so it’s time we highlight the history of the “tried and true” classics as well as some of the newer varieties sure to please any home gardener. To see a list of echinacea that are AAS Winners, click here.


The coneflower is a native to central and eastern North America and is a member of the Asteraceae family. Other flowers in the Asteraceae family include daisy, sunflower and aster. The name “Asteracea” finds its origin from the Greek word for star. The main family feature is its composite flower type: Its capitula (flower head) is surrounded by involucral bracts. Most Echinacea blooms are oversized bright disks atop rings of downward-curving petals. The name “Echinacea” is also derived from the Greek word “echino,” which means spiky or prickly, referring to the plant’s floral center. The florets are hermaphroditic, with both male and female organs on each flower. Pollination occurs most often with the help of butterflies and bees.

Medicinal Uses

Besides its native landscape and prairie appeal, the herbal and medicinal use of Echinacea has been documented through the years. Herbalists use the roots/rhizomes and herbs of Echinacea to treat or ward off various infections and maladies. It offers a general boost to the immune system, and has antidepressant properties. Echinacea angustifolia was used by Native Americans to soothe sore throats, headaches or coughs – symptoms of the common cold. They first saw the benefit of using Echinacea medicinally by observing elk that sought out the plant and ate it when wounded or sick. In the mid-19th century Echinacea was used as a pain reliever and increased in use as an herbal medicine through the 1930s in America and Europe. The plant E. purpurea contains the chemical compounds cichoric acid and caftaric acid. These phenols are common to many other plants. Other phenols include echinacoside (found in E. angustifolia and E. pallida roots). These phenols can serve as markers for the quantity of raw Echinacea in the product. Other plant components that contribute to health effects include alkylamides and polysaccharides.

Breeding Resurgence

Since its popularity as an herbal supplement has grown, many consumers may not be aware that Echinacea can be grown easily and enjoyed as a garden flower. Today, more and more gardeners are seeking out perennial plants as long-term investments that offer good value at an effective cost. Perennials are the building blocks of any home garden. Planting foundation beds of perennials is a practice widely used by landscape designers as a way to provide multi-season color, texture, shape, and to reduce garden maintenance. Gardeners perceive perennials in general as a good value as their hardiness and forgiving nature equates to less risk.

To supply this new demand for perennials, Echinacea has been one of the varieties seeing a significant growth in breeding activity. It remains a “top five” perennial in terms of retail sales. Several advances have produced plants that have set a new standard in compact-growing, well-branched Echinacea. Breeding trials have resulted in bringing free-flowering plants to market that overwinter successfully in cooler zones. Poor winter hardiness is a source of frustration with some gardeners. However, recent breeding has developed seed-grown varieties selected specifically for their bold coloring and trialed for overwintering success to USDA Zone 4.

Echinacea in the Garden

You’ll find wild growing Echinacea in sunny, dry open woodlands and prairies. The plant prefers loamy, well-drained soil, but it is little affected by soil pH. Cultivated Echinacea offer reliable performance as a perennial plant under a wide variety of conditions. Echinacea can be propagated from seed or vegetatively using various techniques, such as division, basal cuttings, or root cuttings.

Echinacea is attractive to birds, bees and butterflies making it a great choice for a pollinator-friendly garden. It is generally deer resistant. Because of their root structure, the plants are drought tolerant and can withstand heat and wind. Used in garden borders or backgrounds, Echinacea adds color and texture for a wildflower or prairie-style garden. For best visual impact, plant in masses. Deadhead florets to encourage further blooms. Echinacea flowers through the summer (June through August). Its seed heads can be left to dry on the plant to feed wild birds through the fall and winter. Echinacea plants will reseed in the fall, with new flowers growing the following season. Hardiness zones vary by variety, with a range from USDA Zone 4-9.

Starting from Seed

When growing from seed, Echinacea will flower in 11-15 weeks so if started indoors early enough, it is possible to get flowers in the first season. With most varieties, sow seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before outdoor planting date. Plant the seeds 1/8" deep in soilless growing medium. Cover lightly with 1/4" fine soil and keep moist at 65-70 F. Seedlings should emerge in approximately 10-20 days. As with most seedlings, you can transplant them to larger containers when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of true leaves. Before transplanting the young plants to the outside garden, harden off by exposing the plants to outdoors for gradually increasing time frames.

How To Grow

Echinacea are generally low maintenance. Plant in full sun, or light shade in hotter climates. Dividing every few years will keep them healthy. No additional fertilizing is necessary as heavy fertilization leads to tall, leggy plants that flop. Also, avoid over-watering as Echinacea prefer drier conditions once established.

While most home garden Echinacea is ornamental, it can be grown as a fresh or dried cut flower. Allow flowers to mature on the plant before harvesting. Dry by hanging upside down in a well-ventilated, dry area. Fresh Echinacea has a short vase life of seven days.

Pests and Diseases

Echinacea may be affected by slugs, Japanese beetles, Bacterial Leaf Spot, Powdery Mildew, or botrytis.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes nine distinct species of Echinacea:

· Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf Coneflower

· Echinacea atrorubens – Topeka Purple Coneflower

· Echinacea laevigata – Smooth Coneflower

· Echinacea pallida – Pale Purple Coneflower

· Echinacea paradoxa – Yellow Coneflower

· Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower

· Echinacea sanguinea – Sanguine Purple Coneflower

· Echinacea simulata – Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower

· Echinacea tennesseensis – Tennessee Coneflower

Common/Popular Varieties

‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is a seed grown hybrid Echinacea with excellent overwinter performance on drought tolerant plants. It is an All-America Selections winner, regarded for its brilliant segregated color range: red, orange, purple, scarlet, cream, yellow and white. Hardy to USDA Zone 4. It grows 18-30 inches (46-76 cm) tall and 10-20 inches (25-51 cm) wide.

‘Double Scoop™ Orangeberry,’ available as vegetatively propagated plants, grows 24-26 inches (56-66 cm) tall and spreads 16-22 inches (41-56 cm) wide. It is hardy to USDA Zone 4 with a high count of fully double, pompom flowers in bright colors.

‘Kim’s Knee-Hi’ grows 18-30 inches (46-76 cm) tall, spreading 24-36 inches (61-91 cm) wide. It is a vegetatively propagated variety with mauve-pink petals drooping back around a burned-red center.

‘Magnus’, a basally branching seed grown variety, grows to 26-36 inches (66-91 cm) tall and produces large 4.5-inch (11 cm) blooms. Petals are held flatter than other varieties in a pink-rose color with orange-brown center. Tolerates heat, drought and wind.

‘PowWow™ Wild Berry’ is an All-America Selections winner. This seed-raised Echinacea has intense rose coloring and produces many flowers in its first season. It is very drought tolerant and doesn’t experience color fade. Remains compact at 16-20 inches (41-51 cm) tall and spreads 12-16 inches (30-41 cm) wide in the garden.

‘Prairie Splendor’ is an American Garden Award Prize Winner from 2010, as voted on by the gardening public and it’s no wonder! ‘Prairie Splendor’ offers non-stop blooms almost a full two weeks earlier than most Echinacea and blooms right through fall. It is 24 (61 cm) inches tall and available from seed.

‘Primadonna White’ is a white compact plant with nice, bright white flowers, perfect for the evening garden. It also has orange-green cones that stand up erect from the petals. Hardy in USDA Zones 4-9, this variety, available from seed, grows 28- 36 inches (68-91 cm) tall and can also be used as a cut flower.

‘Sombrero™ Hot Coral’ grows 22-24 inches (56-61 cm) tall, spreading in the garden 24-26 inches (61-66 cm). Available as vegetatively propagated plants, it blooms June through August and has vibrant color with overlapping petals which leaves no gaps. It grows on sturdy stems, and is floriferous for many months of enjoyment each season.

‘Tomato Soup’ is a beautiful tomato-red Echinacea with large 5” blooms that are deliciously fragrant. These long-blooming plants grow up to 32 inches (80 cm) tall and are available as vegetatively propagated plants.

‘White Swan’ is a white-flowering Echinacea growing 18-22 inches (46-55 cm tall). Raised from seed, it has a yellow center over dark green, coarse and serrated leaves, and is heat and drought tolerant.

For More Information

Please consider our NGB member companies as authoritative sources for information. Click on direct links to their websites by selecting Member Info from the upper left menu on this page, and then click on Complete Member List located at the bottom of the page. Gardeners looking for seed sources, select “Shop Our Members” at the top of our home page.

The National Garden Bureau recognizes Ball Horticultural Company as the author of this fact sheet. Ball, through their breeding companies PanAmerican Seed, Kieft Seed, Ball Floraplant and Darwin Perennials, offers many new varieties of Echinacea.

This Fact Sheet is provided as a service from the National Garden Bureau. The use of this information is unrestricted. Please credit the National Garden Bureau as the source.

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