The Plant Native

Coneflower

Highlights

Coneflowers—also known by their Latin name Echinacea—are cheerful, bright perennial flowers that bloom for a month or more in the summer. All nine species are native to North America. Coneflowers are known for their distinctive drooping petals and large, cone-shaped seed heads. Their blooms become seeds in the fall, turning into natural bird feeders. Coneflowers love full sun, are very easy to grow, and are drought tolerant. An absolute must for any sunny garden.

Coneflowers are technicolor pollinator buffets

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Coneflowers

Table of Contents

Coneflowers are a perfect native plant to grow because they are so easy to grow and they look stunning quickly. Their blooms are not shy: the neon-pink or bright-yellow petals look electrified in the summer. They are also very forgiving plants and thrive in a range of sun situations. Let’s spend some time getting to know more about coneflowers, including how to plant them and what kinds to add to your garden.

Why is it important to plant native plants like coneflowers?

Planting native plants makes our yards and spaces gorgeous while helping the birds, butterflies, and animals (and helping save us time!) Here are three reasons why planting native is worth it:

  1. Without native plants, iconic animals like Monarch butterflies and songbirds won’t have the food or homes needed to survive
  2. Native plants save time and money: after the first year of getting established, native plants are happy with rain
  3. Native plants are gorgeous! Coneflowers are a perfect example of how beautiful and resilient native plants are—they are always the best choice for our gardens.

About their Latin name Echinacea (and a warning about seed tops!)

Coneflower is a common name for this plant, or a plant name given generations before. However, all coneflowers also have a Latin name, or a singular two-part name to help place them within the plant kingdom. All coneflowers’ Latin names begin with Echinacea

You can see coneflowers turn into seed hedgehogs in the fall

Every single one of the nine species of Echinacea is native to North America. If you see a plant that has Echinacea in its Latin name—plant away! 

The Latin genus name Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, which translates to hedgehog or sea-urchin.

You’ll know why it’s named for its spines when touching a seed pod—ouch! Don’t forget to wear gardening gloves when handling the surprisingly spikey coneflower tops.

Coneflowers are related to daisies

If they remind you of daisies, that’s because coneflowers are in the daisy family (Coneflowers are members of the Asteraceae or Compositae family—which means they’re in the daisy family.) However, the classic white-with-yellow-center shasta daisy is native to Europe and Asia.

When coneflowers bloom

Coneflowers have a very long bloom time: flowers will be out from mid-summer to early fall. Their bright petals are out for 4-6 weeks. Plant coneflowers in your garden for memorable, bright blooms through the end of summer and early fall. They are the perfect plant for highly visible, sunny spaces.

Coneflowers in the fall and winter

Leave your coneflowers in the garden through the fall and winter and let them become nature’s bird feeders. Leaving our gardens alone throughout the fall and winter helps native flowers turn into seed buffets for birds.

Small birds like bright yellow finches love to sit on top of the seed heads and enjoy a feast. In the late winter and early spring, coneflowers are a welcome food source.

Native coneflowers

There are nine species of coneflowers native to North America; four species are easily found in either seed or plant form. Look for these in your local plant nurseries or garden shares:

Eastern purple coneflower

Eastern Purple Coneflower is native to the Eastern United States and is known for its large electric-pink petals. Plant as many as you can in your garden, for pollinators and birds alike. They can get tall: up to 4-5 feet! Surround them with shorter plants.

Pale purple coneflower

Pale Purple Coneflower is native to the great plains. Its long, elegant petals look like a ballerina’s tutu, especially when caught in the breeze.

Prairie coneflower

Prairie Coneflower is not in the Echnicea family, but since it’s common name often includes ‘coneflower,’ we’ll include it here! It is also sometimes referred to as Mexican Hat Coneflower.

Yellow coneflower

Yellow Coneflower is straight-forwardly named; its shape and drought-tolerance are similar to that of its purple and pink cousins.

Endangered native coneflowers

We’ve all heard of echinacea before, especially when we have a cold and are perusing the vitamin or tea aisle. Everything that says ‘echinacea’ comes from a coneflower plant. Coneflowers have been used for generations, first by Native Americans, for their medicinal benefits.

Sadly, in recent generations, these native plants have been pulled up in enormous numbers. According to plant historian Marjorie Harris, “In 1990 alone, 70,000 pounds of dried [coneflower] root were collected, much of which was shipped abroad. The same year, the U.S. government stopped issuing licenses for this purpose in fear that the herb might be wiped out.”

Combine this with the rise of invasive plants like kudzu overtaking coneflower habitat, and you’ll see why some native coneflower species are in trouble.

Below are some endangered native coneflower species. If you see these endangered plants in the wild, admire but do not touch. If you spot them in a local nursery or plant sale, take good care of them and give away as many seeds as you can.

Photo by Manuel M. V.

Narrow-leaf Coneflower

Narrow-leaf Coneflower is a native that needs respect and help to survive. Its roots are believed to have medicinal effects, so thousands of these plants are pulled up every year. It may be hard to find; leave it undisturbed in the wild.

Smooth coneflower

Smooth Coneflower is a plant to protect: it is endangered in several states. Its dramatic drooping petals frame its cone. Look out for these at plant sales at your local botanic gardens.

Coneflower Cultivars

A cultivar is a plant that has been created or curated by humans to look or behave a certain way—here is a quick cultivar overview.

There are so many Coneflower cultivars that have been developed for use in gardens and wildflower meadows. Some of the more popular Coneflower cultivars include:

The problem with cultivars...

One way to consider the issues around cultivars is to compare a native coneflower with a cultivar coneflower. When you see them side by side, you have to wonder—how can pollinators understand this is the same plant?

Native Pale Purple Coneflower
Cultivar Giddy Pink Coneflower barely resembles the native species

Where to plant coneflowers

Coneflowers like full sun and most varieties get tall (up to 3-4 feet!) Plant them in sunny areas, with shorter native plants in front (Bee Balm, Nodding Onion, and Butterfly Weed (a type of Milkweed) are great pairings).

How to grow coneflowers

Coneflowers are very easy to grow. They are

  • Drought resistant: don’t worry about them surviving dry summers; they can handle droughts
  • Low maintenance: no fertilizer or special needs are required for coneflowers to thrive
  • Longtime bloomers: their bright blooms are open 4-8 weeks from the summer to early fall
  • Perennials: they will come back year after year. Once you plant them and they are happily established, you can enjoy them in your yard for years to come.
Three different seed choices found at Home Depot and Lowes in the spring—all are native (excuse my daughter's blue paint on one!)

Grow coneflowers by seed

It’s easy to plant coneflowers by seed if you are patient: plants started from seed may not flower until the second year.

For less than $5, you can plant a garden full of coneflowers by seed. Seeds are easily found in any local nursery and even at big box stores.

For $0, you can also plant a garden full of coneflowers, if a neighbor gives you a seed head. Make sure you do this in the fall—before the birds eat it all! (Coneflower seed heads are very spikey—remember to wear gloves when handling the seed tops.)

To collect the coneflower seed, put the seed head between two plastic cups and shake vigorously. The seeds will separate from the seedhead easily. 

Fall seed planting

To plant by seed in the late fall, scatter seeds and loosely throw mulch or dirt over the seeds. Seedlings will emerge in the spring. (Yes—it’s that easy! Native plants can plant themselves, so it really is that easy to garden native.)

Spring seed planting

Direct sow coneflower seeds in early spring when the soil is warm, 65°F (18°C). Take the seeds individually and plant them into holes 1/8″ deep. Water daily for the first two months to ensure they get enough moisture to grow. Watch the seedlings emerge in the spring, grow greenery that summer, and bloom the summer after.

Buy coneflower seeds online

Here are some places to buy native coneflower seeds online:

native-plant-coneflower-emerging-from-the-ground
A native coneflower plant emerging from the ground in the spring

Grow coneflowers from plants

Coneflower plants will normally flower the first year they are planted and will return in the following years with taller plants and bigger blooms.

Grow coneflowers by dividing established plants

Coneflowers can be propagated through seed, bought at a nursery, or found by dividing established plants in the spring or fall. Oftentimes, you’ll see people in your community posting free garden giveaways on Facebook—like coneflower!—in the spring and fall.

To divide a plant, dig up the entire clump and separate it into smaller sections, each with its own roots and shoots. Replant the divided sections and water thoroughly.

Coneflowers are an easy-to-find native plant

Coneflowers are also one of the few easy-to-find native plants at larger garden centers. Although buying from local nurseries is the best way to get tips and buy healthy plants, sometimes we find ourselves at Home Depot or Lowes looking for garden gems. Most big-box stores carry coneflowers in the spring and summer.

Besides big box retailers, there are three reliable ways to find coneflower plants for your yard:

1

Buy from a local plant nursery

Your local nursery will have coneflower plants to buy, especially at the end of spring / early summer. Whenever possible, buy native plants from local nurseries. Home Depot and Lowes cannot beat the plant selection at local nurseries.

2

Find a local plant swap

Coneflowers are easy to dig up and give away. Search local gardening groups on Facebook to find local gardeners who often give away plants during the spring and fall.

3

Visit local plant sales in the spring

Almost all local plant organizations and gardens host plant sales in the spring. These plant sales often include plants that are not available at conventional nurseries. Check your local garden websites for dates.

Coneflowers + Blazing Star + Butterfly Weed = butterfly heaven

What to plant with coneflowers

Coneflowers look great alongside other plants that flower at different times, so pollinators always have something to eat.

Native flowers for the spring

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Bee Balm

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Creeping Phlox

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False Blue Indigo

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Golden Alexander

other native flowers for the summer

Native flowers for the fall

Coneflowers are a beautiful and drought-resistant addition to any Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, or Southern garden. With their range of colors and easy maintenance, they thrive in a variety of environments. For $5 or less, you can plant a coneflower garden in no time. Whether you are an experienced gardener or just starting out, add coneflowers to your landscape and watch wildlife chow down year-round.

UPDATED —
02/19/2024
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