When you see the word Echinacea, you probably think “cold remedy”. Of all the native plants that have made their way from the field to the medicine cabinet, this one is probably one of the most famous. The roots and leaves of Purple Coneflower, whose genus name is Echinacea, have long been used to treat inflammation, infections, pain, and even wounds. It is said to stimulate the immune system -for instance, you might take it when you feel a cold coming on–and it is available in the supplement aisle of almost any grocery store.
As a flower, this is an aster with pinkish-purple ray flowers and orange to purple disk flowers that are often arranged in a dome (hence the name coneflower). The disk flowers are stiff and bristly, and they really resemble a sea urchin if you look close enough (in fact, “echinos” means sea urchin). The ray flowers hang downward, which accents the center beautifully. The inflorescence is borne on a tall, hairy stem (peduncle).
The leaves of this prairie species are alternate, lance-shaped, and tapering to a point; they are usually, but not always, hairy.
Although we typically think of Purple Coneflower as a garden perennial (and a fine one at that!), this species is a native on the east coast and is associated with prairies and open woodlands. It tolerates dry conditions and seems to thrive in the heat of summer. Bloom time is July-September.
Some of the photos below were taken at Brian Murphy’s farm in Craig County. He’s converting old pastures to wildlife habitat, and his wildflowers are really spectacular! Others were taken in local gardens.