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Cone Crazy
Written by Sue Pezzolla, Master Gardener Coordinator,
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County
Photographs by Chuck Schmitt, Senior Resource Educator,
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County
'Firebird' is just one example of one of the new coneflowers. The humble purple coneflower has undergone a botanical makeover that will knock your socks off. She is not your grandmother's Echinacea anymore! I suspect it started in 1998 when the Perennial Plant Association named the cultivar 'Magnus' as its Perennial Plant of the year. This distinction brought attention to a simple, North American prairie, native plant with a daisy-type flower form that had always been a favorite in the perennial border. Preferring full sun to light shade, Echinacea stars in the late summer to fall border. New and improved always attracts attention and 'Magnus' was no exception with its vibrant rose-purple flowers whose petals remain horizontal rather than the original habit of drooping downward. 'Bravado' came along soon after with an extraordinary large size and morning fragrance. Gone were the days of the generic coneflower as new cultivars were appearing with each new season's plant catalog. Early on, plants were in short supply and thus expensive but now the varieties are numerous and growers have dedicated more energy to producing the many types of coneflower that consumers are demanding. The origin of the word Echinacea comes from the Greek echinos, meaning hedgehog, and this refers to the flowers' rather spiky center which is distinctively cone-shaped and reminiscent of a hedgehog. Native to the South and prairie settings, these perennial plants are now grown in many zones and they are valued for their easy-going manner as they develop into handsome clumps over three to five years. When coneflowers need dividing, the fall is the best time but they also can be propagated from seed. Coneflowers have long been valued as a medicinal plant. Native Americans used Echinacea to cure several ailments and today herbalists make teas and infusions to combat cold symptoms and to enhance the immune system. Gardeners may appreciate those uses of this versatile flower but for them the attribute that they value is the relationship between the coneflower and its environment. A favorite plant of many butterflies, Echinacea seed is also a food source for migrating and overwintering birds. The perennial plant wholesaler, Sunny Border Nurseries, Inc., lists 35 varieties of coneflowers in their 2013 catalog and new cultivars have appeared in many garden centers. Most cultivars are hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4 but check the descriptions carefully as some are listed as less hardy if you plan to grow them in very cold winter climates. The Big Sky ™ series has fostered cultivars like 'Sunrise' with fragrant lemon-yellow flowers, 'Twilight' with brilliant rose-red flowers, and 'Harvest Moon' with fragrant golden yellow petals surrounding an orange cone center. While most coneflowers range in height from three feet, and up, 'Kim's Knee High' is a dwarf, topping out at two feet, so there is a coneflower for every garden. 'Fragrant Angel' has large white flowers with double rows of petals giving it a showy appearance and because of its hardiness, it is a treasure for Zone 3 gardeners. 'Fatal Attraction' is aptly named, having very fragrant flowers of a neon-magenta hue supported by black stems; a real showstopper. Echinacea 'Green Envy' begins blooming with pale green petals and a dark green center cone. As the flower ages it takes on maroon tones that blush the petals in contrast to a deepening purple cone. 'Razzmatazz' is a very unique Echinacea cultivar having a fully double deep pink bloom. It makes a great cut flower and combines well with other daisies and coreopsis in the garden. Leading the pack for most unusual cultivar is Echinacea 'Doubledecker' whose two-tiered blooms add a touch of whimsy to the garden. This cultivar will have mostly single blooms the first year but after that it produces a high proportion of double-decker flowers. Hardy to Zone 3, this unique coneflower grows to about 30 inches. Given their native plant origins, coneflowers are rugged and easy to grow. They need a sunny location but will grow in partial shade, especially in hotter climates. While they are drought tolerant, they will look and perform better if watered during very dry spells. Many gardeners prefer to shear back the taller varieties in early summer to pro-duce a bushier plant with more flower stems, and deadheading greatly prolongs bloom. The next time a plant catalog arrives at your house, take a look at what's new in the coneflower section. You will be amazed! Source: Root Concerns, an E-mail Gardening Newsletter from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer, Albany and Schenectady Counties, July 2013,Volume 7, Number 7. Slightly edited by Gerald G. Giordano, Senior Horticulture Consultant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester County 7/13.


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