With their prickly, hedgehog-like seed cones and dramatically drooping heads, the lovely coneflower, or Echinaea has long been a beloved wildflower in gardens across the country This North American native’s natural range stretches across the eastern and central U.S. Still, you’ll find them in landscapes and meadows across much of the country. But not only are coneflowers beautiful, but the plant’s medicinal uses have also been prized for centuries. Read on to learn more about the many uses and benefits of coneflowers.
|Name:||Coneflower, purple coneflower, purple rudbekia|
|Scientific Name:||Echinacea purpurea|
|Native Range:||Eastern and central U.S.|
|Growing Zones:||USDA 3a to 8b|
|Botanical Characteristics:||Perennial that reaches up to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Green, hairy foliage rough and simple, with dentate margins. Flowers are purple to pink, with even to 20 petals arranged radially with a distinctive droop around a prominent, bristly central seed cone.|
|Flowering Season:||Summer (June through August)|
|Colors:||E. purpurea has purple-pink blooms, while other cultivars and species bloom in shades of white, red, yellow, gold, orange, copper, brown, or burgundy.|
What is a Coneflower (Echinacea)
Coneflowers are part of the Echinacea genus, which belongs to the Asteraceae, or daisy, family. The Echinacea genus contains about nine to 10 species. Most of these species are (informally) called “coneflowers.”
Most are easily identified by the distinctive central discs, which bristle like a hedgehog. In fact, that’s where the coneflower’s scientific name, Echinacea, comes from; echinos means “hedgehog” in Greek.
The coneflower’s blooms resemble daisies, except for the reflexive drooping nature of the radial petals. This causes the central cone to really stand out.
Coneflowers are native to regions of the eastern and central U.S. Native Americans long utilized coneflowers, thanks to their many medicinal uses. European settlers soon discovered the plant’s many uses and took Echinacea coneflowers back to the Old Country, where it became a popular ingredient in many medicinal remedies and traditions.
The Most Popular Types of Coneflower
The purple coneflower (E. purpurea) is the most commonly seen species and is a popular ornamental perennial for gardens and landscapes. Some of the many cultivars of E. purpurea include:
- ‘Alba’ blooms with pure, snowy white flowers.
- ‘Avalanche’: A deer-resistant cultivar that tolerates dappled shade and blooms with white petals around a green central cone
- ‘Bravado’ has pink-red flowers that grow up to five inches in diameter.
- ‘Cheyenne Spirit’: An award-winning variety that blooms in multiple colors on the same plant, from red, pink, and orange to white, yellow, and cream, all around a brown center.
- ‘Daydream’: This yellow-flowered cultivar starts blooming in late spring and puts on a show until autumn.
- ‘Firebird’: Attract butterflies to your garden with the brightest red blossoms of ‘Firebird.”
- ‘Flame Thrower’: This variety has bi-colored orange and yellow petals surrounding deep red central cones.
- ‘Greenline’ blooms with bright, light green flowers around a chartreuse cone.
- ‘Kim’s Knee High’ is a compact variety that grows from 12 to 18 inches tall.
- ‘Pow Wow Wild Berry’ or ‘PAS702917’ blooms profusely with pink-purple flowers and doesn’t require deadheading.
- ‘Secret Passion’ has double blossoms, with a fluffy red center surrounded by pink rays.
- ‘Sunrise’ is a cross between E. purpurea and E. paradoxa. It has buttery yellow petals around a green and gold cone.
There are also eight to nine other species of coneflower, including:
- Narrow leaf coneflower (E. angustifolia) has many medicinal uses
- Yellow coneflower (E. paradoxa) is the only species that sports yellow blooms; it is native to the Ozarks.
- Pale purple coneflower (E. pallida) has light purple blossoms.
- Smooth purple coneflower (E. laevigata) is, unfortunately, an endangered species.
15 Amazing Uses and Benefits of Coneflowers
1) A Native Plant to North America
Echinacea species are all native to North America. The native distribution stretches from the central U.S. to the east coast. Often, coneflowers are found growing wild in meadows, prairies, and grasslands.
Gardening with native plants offers many benefits. Because the plants evolved over thousands of years to thrive in local conditions, they’re usually resistant to local diseases and pests. Often, they don’t require much supplemental watering and are somewhat deer resistant, as well.
As an additional benefit, most native plants require little in the way of fertilization or pesticides. This means less maintenance and input are required.
2) Coneflowers are Perennials
Coneflowers are perennials, so they come back year after year. The plants will die back to the ground in late fall, sleep over the winter, then start to grow again in the spring.
As the years’ pass, coneflower plants will grow larger. Every few years, you may want to divide your coneflowers. Though it involves a bit of work, the reward is more (free!) coneflower plants for your garden.
3) Coneflowers are Drought Resistant
In the wild, coneflowers often grow in rocky, poor, or dry soil. They can tolerate heat, making them a good choice for sunny, dry spots.
4) Coneflower can Tolerate Partial Sun Locations
Though coneflowers prefer full sun locations, they can grow in partial sun. In fact, when planted in dappled shade or partial sun, the plants can thrive with less supplemental water.
5) Coneflowers Are Easy To Grow
Coneflowers tolerate various environmental conditions. This makes them easy to grow. From poor, rocky soil to varying pH, full sun to partial shade, coneflowers can thrive in various spots.
Just be careful to avoid spots that experience salt spray. Be sure to provide good drainage, as wet conditions in winter can kill coneflowers.
6) Coneflowers Attract Bees & Other Pollinators
Birds love coneflowers, too. American goldfinches and other songbirds eat coneflower seeds.
7) Coneflowers Attract Predatory Insects
Echinacea flowers don’t just attract pollinators. They attract beneficial predatory insects, too. These include the soldier beetle and ladybugs, which are attracted to many plants in the daisy family.
Other natural predators include green lacewings, spechid wasps, syrphid and tachinid flies, praying mantis, and many other tiny wasps and flies.
8) Coneflowers Can Be Cut For Floral Displays
Coneflowers look beautiful in cut floral displays. Their informal appearance makes them a great choice for a natural or organic aesthetic.
To make cut flowers last longer, use sharp, clean snips. Make a diagonal cut in the stem, strip off any leaves, and immediately place the stem into lukewarm water. Change the water at least every other day and keep the vase away from heat sources, including direct sunlight.
9) They Can Also Be Dried To Create Longer Lasting Arrangements
Dried coneflowers add a lovely, natural look to dried flower arrangements. However, be aware that the petals themselves are tough to dry.
Instead, you’ll be left with the bristly cone, but these add a touch of textural interest to any arrangement.
10) Coneflowers Attract Butterflies
Coneflowers are a great addition to a butterfly garden. Many species of butterflies are drawn to coneflowers, including the larvae of the silvery checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne nycteis).
The butterflies breed from May through September, so you may see larvae on plants during these months. The larvae of the wavy-lined emerald butterfly (Synchlora aerata) also love coneflowers.
11) Coneflowers are High in Antioxidants
Coneflowers boast high volumes of plant compounds that can serve as antioxidants. These molecules defend your cells against oxidative stress – a condition that can lead to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
12) Coneflowers May Help Treat Skin Concerns
Native Americans used coneflowers’ leaves, flowers, and roots to treat several skin ailments and concerns. These included bug bites, wounds, and burns.
Science supports using Echinacea for skin concerns, such as acne, psoriasis, boils and eczema. Research indicates that extracts can help soothe and hydrate skin and may even reduce signs of aging such as wrinkles.
13) Echinacea Boosts the Immune System
Echinacea extracts have long been used to boost the immune system. Research indicates that compounds in the plants may strengthen the immune response. These include alkamides, caffeic acid, phenolic acids, polyacetylenes, and rosmarinic acid.
The species E. angustifolia, E. pallida and E. purpurea have been found to affect the immune system in laboratory tests. Studies potentially link the plants to improved immunity, lower blood sugar, a decrease in inflammation, and even cancer-fighting properties.
14) Echinacea May Help Prevent Respiratory Ailments
Along with skin ailments, Native Americans and early Europeans used echinacea roots, foliage, and flowers to treat respiratory problems. Scientific research indicates that coneflower has the potential to reduce one’s chance of catching a cold.
Other research indicates that coneflower may help ease respiratory symptoms, like cough, fever, and sore throat. It may reduce the duration of cold and flu symptoms.
15) Coneflower is Drinkable When Dried and Used in Teas
Echinacea can be consumed in tea form. The flowers, leaves, and roots can be dried, crushed, and brewed.
Coneflower tea has a pleasant, earthy flavor and aroma. It’s easy to make yourself, or you can buy one of many commercial preparations readily available.
The Benefits of Coneflowers – The Final Word
Coneflowers offer many benefits. From their ornamental beauty to their medicinal uses, these lovely native plants make a beautiful and valuable addition to any garden.
For more, see our in-depth guide and the best companion plants for coneflowers.
Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.