Flowering time (month)
Ornamental or utility value
nectar or pollen plant
moderately dry to fresh
weakly alkaline to weakly acidic
The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), also known as the red coneflower coneflower or hedgehog’s head, is a very popular garden perennial from the Asteraceae family, which originally comes from the prairies of North America. Already with the Indians the wild perennial was considered as antiseptic medicinal plant and is used today in many cold preparations.
In 1696 the perennial was first described in England by the botanist Leonard Plukenet (1642-1706) as “Chrysanthenum americanum” because he discovered similarities with the garden chrysanthemum. Carl von Linné gave the species the name Rudbeckia purpurea in 1753, with which it was assigned to the genus Rudbeckia. Only 1794, the genus received its until today valid name Echinacea through Conrad Moench (1744-1805). Meanwhile Rudbeckia and Echinacea are assigned to two different botanical genera. With the yellow sunhat (Rudbeckia), the purple sunhats – for some years – are officially no longer closely related, although the plants look very similar at first sight. However, the degree of kinship between the two perennials is still hotly debated among botanists. If one compares the two perennials more closely with each other, however, clear differences can be determined.
The perennial owes its German name to the shape of the flower base, which resembles a pointed hat. The term “hedgehog’s head” refers to the prickly texture of the flower heads. The botanical name Echinacea is derived from the Greek word “echinos”, which also means “hedgehog”. In the United States, the purple sun hat only appeared in the second half of the 18th century. Meanwhile, there are numerous colorful breeds of Echinacea purpurea.
The purple sun hat forms upright eyries. From a strong tap root with numerous vertically growing secondary roots, upright stems hairy with bristles grow. The perennial shrub grows to a height of between 80 and 100 centimetres. In winter the above-ground parts of the plant freeze to death, but in spring Echinacea purpurea reliably sprouts again.
The basal leaves are ovoid, toothed, rough-haired, dark green and up to 15 centimetres long. The stem leaves are slightly smaller.
From July to September, up to twelve centimetres wide, marguerite-like flower heads appear with purple-pink ray florets and a highly arched, brown-red centre, the so-called basket. There are now also varieties with white, yellow and orange-red flowers. The flowers magically attract butterflies and bees.
Echinacea purpurea forms grey-white, up to five millimetre long split fruits, so-called achenes.
The magnificent shrub needs a sunny place as a location. Although semi-shade places are also possible, Echinacea purpurea will plant fewer flowers in such places.
The purple coneflower thrives best on nutrient-rich, permeable soils that are not too heavy.
The plant is relatively short-lived, so you should cut it back to a hand’s breadth above the ground immediately after flowering and divide it every few years.
Once the shrub has gained a foothold, it is relatively easy to maintain. It is necessary to remove withered flowers regularly. A pruning directly after flowering prolongs the life time. Composting in the spring and occasional stinging nettle liquid manure are also good for the plant to thrive.
As the years go by, Echinacea purpurea’s joy in flowering diminishes and it no longer sprouts so vigorously. Then a rejuvenation cure by division will help: Dig out the rootstock, divide it up and replant the parts. You should do this every four to five years, preferably in spring.
Echinacea purpurea works very well in sunny borders, for example in combination with asters, goldenrods, ornamental grasses or Rudbeckien. The nectar-rich perennial, which attracts numerous butterflies and bees, is also very effective in open spaces that are close to nature. The long flower stems are impressive cut flowers.
Echinacea purpurea as a medicinal plant
The purple sun hat was already used by the natives of North America as an antiseptic against inflammation. For some years now the perennial has also been known to us for its effect as a natural remedy: The substances contained in the above-ground plant parts, for example alkamides, essential oils and caffeic acid derivatives, have a positive effect on the immune system. In addition, the ingredients support respiratory or urinary tract infections. Externally, echinacea preparations, which are usually available in tablet or liquid form in pharmacies, are used for poorly healing wounds, psoriasis or herpes.
The purple coneflower, which traditionally blooms in carmine red, should now be given a new name because it no longer lives up to its old name: it has been available in white for quite some time, and the new varieties from the USA even have sulphur yellow to bright red flowers, but garden lovers in America are now also interested in new crosses of Echinacea paradoxa and Echinacea purpurea with sonorous names such as ‘Sunrise’, ‘Sunset’ or ‘Harvest Moon’. The ‘Sunset’ variety, for example, has bright salmon-orange petals all around a copper-coloured centre. In this variety not all petals unroll. This gives the flower a star-shaped appearance.
The pompom-like filled Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’ is also bright orange-red. The flowers already appear in June and even exude a light scent. The variety ‘Tiki Torch’ with its large flowers shines like a torch in pure orange. Bright tomato red is the variety ‘Tomato Soup’, which has been awarded two out of three stars in the herbaceous sifting test. An unusual sight among the purple sun hats is ‘Green Envy’. The white-green petals change colour from the centre to the tips, from pink to a delicate shade of red. Due to this colour gradient and its stable stem, it is particularly suitable as a cut flower. The variety ‘Sunrise’ shows flowers of up to twelve centimetres in size in a delicate light yellow with a green dome. It smells good too. Green Jewel’ defoliates its cup-shaped light green petals around a dark green centre. Unfortunately the beauties are not quite cheap, because the breeders have protected all the novelties of their assortment. The nurseries therefore have to pay quite high licence fees for propagation, which they pass on to the end customers.
In principle, sowing by seed is possible with this species. The varieties of Echinacea purpurea are best propagated by division in spring.
Diseases and pests
Basically Echinacea purpurea is robust against diseases and pests.
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I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.