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10 Neat Things About Echinacea
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie



The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at www.localgardener.net and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

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December 6, 2009

1. Purpleness. The "purpurea" of Echinacea purpurea, the full botanical name for purple coneflower, means purple. To my eye, though, the magenta of the petals skews more to pink than purple. And many of the new hybrids are white, orange, yellow and every tint of pink.

2. Spikiness. Echinacea means hedgehog or sea urchin and refers to the spiky cone-shaped disk of the flower.

3. Canadianness. All nine species of the genus Echinacea are exclusively from North America, mostly from the central prairies.

4. Hardiness. The nurseries seem reluctant to rate some echinaceas below Zone 4. I don't know why Zone 4 is the magic cut-off point for so many plants; I suspect that that's the lowest Zone any major grower is located in. Nonetheless, I have never heard of anyone losing their echinacea to cold in Zones 2 and 3. Tell me if it's happened to you.

5. Usefulness in the garden. With their drought tolerance, upright growth habit and reliability, echinaceas can find a place in just about any reasonably sunny garden. They're perfect for planting in narrow borders, like the one many suburban gardeners have running along a front-yard driveway, and they mix stunningly with ornamental grasses.

6. Usefulness to Native North Americans. Echinaceas were recognized by native North Americans for their medicinal properties. In particular, narrow-leafed coneflower (E. angustifolia) was used by the Plains Indians to treat cough, sore throat and pain. Legend has it that the usefulness was suspected when it was noticed that elk seek out the plant when they are sick or injured.

7. Usefulness to European settlers. Learning from the indigenous peoples, settlers relied on echinacea as an anti-microbial and a painkiller. It was a staple in the Eclectic Medicine movement, a holistic kind of healthcare practiced by many American doctors in the 19th century.

8. Usefulness today. Various echinacea preparations are sworn by some herbalists to ward off colds or shorten the duration of them. It is used as a general booster to the immune system.

9. Does it work? The jury is still out. Because it is herbal, it doesn't need rigorous testing the way a drug would in order to sell it. At the same time, its widespread use makes it unpatentable, so the amount of money required to test its medicinal usefulness would not be recouped by any laboratory investing in the research. Sometimes capitalism fails us.

10. Back to gardening. Echinacea is highly hybridisable. Up to a dozen new varieties come to market every year. Pictured to the left (below the top image, a species E. purpurea) are some new introductions for 2010 from Terra Nova Nurseries, the grower who supplied all the named pictures. From top to bottom, they are: 'Coral Reef', 'Firebird', 'Flame Thrower', 'Gum Drops', 'Heavenly Dream', 'Maui Sunshine' and 'Tangerine Dream'.

Visit us at www.localgardener.net and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

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