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Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea (Asteraceae))

Coneflower is a common name of at least four genera of flowering plants in family Asteraceae. Coneflowers, especially the purple varieties, are old fashioned prairie plants. The primary varieties are:
* Dracopis
* Echinacea
* Rudbeckia
* Ratibida
We will focus on the Echinacea variety. Echinacea resemble daisies with swept-back petals They are hardy, drought tolerant and long-blooming and are being cultivated in a ever widening range of colors. Purple coneflower blossoms are 2½ or more inches across, and resemble daisies. The familiar reddish-purple petals, or “ray” flowers, surround large, dark, centers composed of numerous, densely compacted “disk” flowers. This central “cone” may black, brown, orange bronze or rust colored, depending on the variety. Flowers start to bloom in midsummer at the tips of branching stems, several to a plant. They continue for 2 to 3 months. Then the petals drop and the centers gradually enlarge, becoming dark, bristly cones as the seeds within mature.
A robust, drought tolerant perennial, native to the midwestern and southeastern United States, it produces jaunty, colorful blooms in midsummer when many other flowering plants are idle. Flowers are arranged individually on sturdy, elongated stems with soft lavender or purple petals surrounding an iridescent red-orange, coned center. Prefers full sun to partial shade in fertile, well-drained soils.
Aside from its obvious charm as an ornamental plant, purple cornflower is reputed to have therapeutic value as well. It was a medicinal staple for many Native American prairie peoples and its roots and leaves are ingredients in several over-the-counter herbal preparations currently available in drugstores and health food stores today.
The entire family of cone flower or Echinacea loves the open sunny garden. It thrives in drier gardens than most other plants so it is a good plant for that hot, dry spot. Tolerant of most growing conditions, but prefers well-drained soil and full sun. Allow for good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases. Rich soil can cause Echinacea to become leggy.
Do water it to establish new plantings but once established, it can thrive on its own. The really nice thing about this plant is that it will also tolerate some light shade and good soil. The only thing that will shorten the cone flower lifespan is heavy clay soils or constantly damp soils; it does not like to have its roots constantly wet. It likes good drainage.
The plant does really well in moderately fertile soils and if there is enough water in mid summer when it is setting seed, there is no problem with obtaining more plants. New plants and seedlings will need to be watered until they are established. Once they are growing well, they will thrive on the available moisture from rain except in extremely dry areas.
However, rabbits and hedgehogs think new echinacea shoots are a tasty treat, so protect seedlings and young plants.
Plants should be deadheaded for continual bloom. Shearing back in the early summer will result in bushier plants that bloom longer into the season. Divide as needed to keep plants in check.

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