27 July 2007

Why I love coneflowers and other true stories

As I walked around the garden this morning, I tried to remember when I became besotted with coneflowers. It’s true I am very fond of most ornamental members of the Compositae, or Asteraceae family, from sunflowers to asters (though don’t ask about my ongoing problem with pulling the wrong asters out of the garden…). But there’s something about coneflowers that really pleases me, and I think it’s partly the attractive central cones, and partly the colours, and partly the way the plants are loved by butterflies and birds and bees of various sorts.

Here’s a little coneflower botany; there are three types of plants that are referred to as coneflowers—Echinaceas, Ratibidas, and some of the Rudbeckias. I don’t have any ratibidas at present—having had several Mexican Hat plants expire on me in the past (or having inadvertently weeded them, mistaking them for something weedy.) We have a host of rudbeckias, including the traditional browneyed Susans, as well as the black coneflower (Rudbeckia 'Black Beauty') and the wonderful ‘Prairie Sun’ Rudbeckia. But most of us, when we say coneflowers, are thinking about Echinaceas, aka the purple coneflowers.

But they aren’t just purple!

The most common garden-grown species of coneflower around here is E. purpurea, the purple coneflower—there are nine species of Echinacea, however, and another popular species is E. angustifolia. But a less utilized and equally attractive plant is E. paradoxa, the yellow coneflower.

And from the crossing of the purple and the yellow coneflower species (and probably some other interesting genetic hocus pocus) we have recently seen a whole host of new colours in coneflowers—oranges, yellows, melons, golds.
I happen to be very fond of the Big Sky series of coneflowers from Itsaul Plants in Georgia, as I have mentioned before. In the photo at the beginning of this entry, there are three cultivars showing: Sunrise (yellow) Sundown (pink-orange) and Harvest Moon (gold, far right).

After purchasing a second Harvest Moon plant—I discovered my first one, and it’s about to flower. Delicious gold colour, and oh yes, it’s fragrant, too.

I have both Sunset and Sundown, but I keep mixing them up and forgetting which one is which—and the labels don’t help, because somehow I planted both varieties close together.

Green Envy continues to expand its petals—and change the colour of its central cone—and delight me. There’s another cultivar, ‘Jade’, which is called green but is really white with a greenish tinge—or so I’m told. Ours isn’t flowering just yet, but its buds are expanding.

Sometimes it’s best to buy a plant in bloom so that you can see if it really is what you want. Take Razzamatazz, called the first truly double purple coneflower. This particular plant is just starting to really double, but I like it a lot.

Then there’s ‘Double Decker’ or ‘Doppelganger’—which doesn’t always grow its moptop the first year. Some say it takes a year or two—others say that they don’t always do the moptop routine. Mine certainly is!

When I spied this gorgeous Shasta daisy, Ice Star, at a local nursery, I had to have it—when the flowers are fully out, they look like a double white version of Razzamatazz, so I thought it would be fun to plant it beside ‘Double Decker’ and see how they worked. Don’t they look wonderful?

Prairie Sun Rudbeckia has green centres, and again when I saw it in full bloom, I had to have it immediately. I never met a Rudbeckia I didn’t like; even the standard brown eyed Susans with the orangy yellow petals is welcome everywhere in our garden.

Although Helenium aren’t called coneflowers, they are fantastic plants—usually latesummer blooming, although I have two or three plants of the shorter varieties starting to flower now. I wasn’t sure how to react when I saw them flowering—seems like they’re trying to tell me we’re heading into fall, when I KNOW we aren’t even halfway through summer yet. I’ll just enjoy these and not think about it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some of our coneflowers and their relatives—none of our white ones are blooming yet, and some of the other E. purpureas are also not in bloom yet, but you can see why we’re cone crazy!

Next time; you’ll be ‘Destined to See’ why I think daylilies are just dandy.


  1. I promised a post on coneflowers sometimes last week and you've reminded me that I haven't done that yet!

    I love them, too. They're some of my very favorites in our garden.

    I just HAVE to have 'Green Envy.' I looked for it yesterday on our trip, but no one had it. :-( I hate to pay what the mail order nurseries are asking for it, but maybe I'll have to if I want it.

    By the way, I wanted to also say thank you for the amethyst ... that very cool one is staying in the house by my computer. It was fabulous! THANK YOU!! Interesting provenance, too!

  2. Jodi - I love love love coneflowers too. I really have to fight myself not to just have the entire garden full of nothing but coneflowers. Yours look so much prettier than the displays I see on the online nursery sites because they are in the context of an actual garden. I think I have 4 to add to my wish list now. Green Envy, Razzamatazz, Double Decker (never seen this one before, its lovely) and the Shasta Ice Star. Thanks for posting these. They are beautiful!

  3. Jodi: I think I love them because they are foolproof! No big problems and they do reseed. I love green flowers and 'Green Envy' is a must have! I love that Rudbeckia 'Prarie Sun' also even though it is somewhat 'school bus' yellow! LOL
    I'm off on vacation for the next week but have pre-posted so please visit. I don't know if I will be able to check my favorite blogs though!

  4. I Love coneflowers I have yellow and of course the pink but your ~Jade~ WOW do I need that one ....YES I do!!
    I also see that you have a family of felines another reason I like this site! I had 3 fur friends but one passed away a few days ago so these images cheer me up!

  5. Hi Jodi,

    What an assortment you have - right now I've just got a pinkish Echinacea called 'Purple Stars' and a few 'White Swan' - but I would make room for 'Prairie Sun' - love that green center.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  6. I definitely want to get Sunrise and Sunset. And, I am sure this is a post I will be referring back to many times.

    Do you think the colors are as hardy as the original plants? A couple of people on blogs I read have mentioned that their yellow cone flowers did not come back this spring.

  7. Jodi,

    As always, it is great fun to come to your blog. Having just bought a new coneflower yesterday - just because it had a cool bloom on it - your post definitely caught my attention. I am going to scout around for 'Green Envy' - it is gorgeous. It reminds me of one of my favourite silk ribbons ... identical colours.

    Your cats look wonderful...

  8. What a wonderful post, Jodi! I admit that I am in the latter camp on the love-em-or-hate-em doppelganger and razzmatazz, but I adore the traditional purples and whites. 'White Swan' is currently blooming its head off in my front yard, and I can't get over how elegant it looks.

    I also love the picture of your coneflowers combining with the purple ninebark foliage. (Is that one 'Center Glow' by chance?) What an inspired pairing--they pick up each others' colors so well!

  9. Looks like 'Green Envy' is an almost unanimous favorite! And I'm going to join the madding crowd and say it's a honey and your picture is gorgeous. We bought one last year along with some of the sundowner series (which I am also confused by because the tags have disappeared...) and I love it best!

  10. Hi fellow cone-crazy gardeners:

    I'm having computer problems so I'll be brief in my replies.

    Isn't it funny how coneflowers make us all go happy? Layanee you're right about them being basically foolproof; Gina that's a very good point about nursery/catalogue sites tending to not show the plants in a garden setting.
    Naturegirl, the green one in the photo is Green Envy. I haven't posted a photo of 'Jade' yet because it's not very big yet. That paragraph was poorly worded in the posting for which I apologize.

    Sandy: I lost both Orange Meadowbright and Mango Meadowbright over the winter, but Sunrise, Sunset and Sundown all returned, as did E. paradoxa, with no problems. I did throw some evergreen boughs over them in December to protect them from the mild/frigid weather swings we were having.

    BSGirlL The ninebark is Coppertina, actually--some of its leaves are almost as dark as Diabolo. The coneflowers near it are Sunset and Sundown but I don't remember which is which...

    Kris; yes, Green Envy is very well named, isn't it? But truthfully, I haven't met a coneflower I didn't adore--I have others, white and purple cultivars that haven't made it to the blog yet--but will! They're all a joy...

  11. Oh, so nice coneflowers! I didn't know that there were so many different sorts. I love razzmatazz and double decker and I wonder whether I'll get them here in Switzerland or not! Thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures. Enjoy your coneflowers!

  12. Thanks for this, Jodi. I love purple coneflowers--wouldn't be without them--but know nothing about the many cultivars. This excellent overview was just what I needed. My own E. purpureas only just started blooming, and immediately attracted a horde of butterflies. Have you noticed any differences in how well the various cultivars attract butterflies?


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