Thursday, June 23, 2011

Attack of the Cone Heads!

[Sorry for the delay blogspot was being weird yesterday about uploading photos and this post  really needs images to look right so I held off and the problem seems to have cleared up. - TC ]

Today we have a quadruple-header of plants, the title of this post just screamed 'do extra!' and so here we have four differing members of the Aster family whom all are referred to as a type of coneflower.  Given the number of plants to cover there wont be a garden fact in the normal fashion as each plant has a little fact included with their information. Without further delay the' Attack of the Coneheads' will begin.

Echinacea angustifolia - Narrow Leaf Coneflower
If you look really hard squint with your left eye you might just be able to see the plant.

Narrow-Leaf Echinacea is an interesting medicinal herb in the aster family. It may not be heavily cultivated, have the orderly looks nor the distribution range of the other cone flowers it is certainly no less important. First off it is a native plant to North America, it's range includes Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado, Kansas, missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and a very limited area of Canada. It's seeds are somewhat difficult to germinate as they require stratification and may need extra dormancy periods. Like most members of the aster family the seedling that results is spindly and barely of note for a year. In the second year the seedling finally really emerges and starts putting on real size. One of it's common names as noted by the USDA is Black Samson Echinacea while other sources list it as Western Coneflower or Kansas Snakeroot.  Since it is in the Aster family it's a given that the flowers attract pollinators but it's medicinal value is much greater then Purple Coneflower in all the same uses.

Echinacea paradoxa - Yellow Coneflower
This is typical of a first year plant, don't worry will be great next year!

Yellow coneflower got the specific epithet 'paradoxa' as a direct nod to the fact it looks like purple coneflower but has yellow flowers instead of purple. This coneflower can be bought at nurseries and garden centers and it's seed is readily available through seed catalogs. But be warned it's germination rate is low and may benefit from sanctification or dormancy treatments.  For those that emerge it is worth it, as the resulting plant is a real stunner in the landscape and worth every dime.Should you be growing both E. paradoxa and E. angustfolia side by side, you can tell them apart by the fact that E. angustifolia has little to no petiole on the leaf where as E. paradoxa has a very obvious petiole.

Echinacea purpurea - Purple Coneflower
Who needs fancy cultivars when the original looks this good?

Purple coneflower is the most prolific member of this coneflower quartet, it's seed is available in almost every seed rack in spring, and a lot of the seed catalogs offer it. You would be hard pressed to find a garden center that does not carry Purple coneflower. The reason is that it is a reliable and undemanding perennial, it tolerates poor soil, drought, and supports native pollinators with it's copious amounts of nectar and feeds the birds with it's heavy seed production. It also is easy to make cultivars with and thus a number of red, red-orange, pink, white and purple shades are available also.  This is definitely one of the black-thumb tolerant garden perennials. It is a little realized fact that echinacea once established can provide reliable color to a xeriscaping bed as long as it's given excellent soil. It will to be watered a little when hopelessly wilted but a liter of water will often suffice to bring this perennial back. For note the specimen in the picture above is about three feet tall, this is a common height for an purple coneflower that is sited well with decent care and good soil. It was grown from seed and this is it's third year in that spot undisturbed.

Rudbeckia lacinata - Cutleaf Coneflower
This specimen was collected with permission from a stream bed in North Carolina.

Also known as Tall Coneflower, Green-Headed Coneflower, Goldenglow and Thimbleweed, Cut-leaf Coneflower is quite adaptable as it's native range is noted by the USDA to be almost every state on the eastern side of the USA and  most of Canada.  Unlike the other conefloweres covered today Cut-Leaf Coneflower can tolerate clay soils with poor drainage and can even handle being submerged for brief periods.  Given the right conditions it will form dense colonies  in which mature plants can reach heights of four feet . What really sets this coneflower apart is the leaves, as the name suggests they are very deeply lobed and resemble some of the coarser ferns. In the south they also bear the potential to be evergreen which can compliment a good four-season garden design. Lastly, the foliage of Cutleaf Coneflower is entirely edible in a forage salad, which adds another wild green to the list.

As a final note, The three Echinaceas listed in this post all have herbal-Medicinal properties that are noted to come from the roots if not the foliage.  All three are noted to posses medicinal value as an antiviral, anti inflammatory, immune system boosting memory improving power house that just happens to look really good and still helps support the local pollinators and the birds.  There is also another noted species Echinacea Tenneseensis, which is noted to be another native. Unfortunately it's native habitat is being destroyed by reckless over development. For conservation sakes you may want to add it to your list of coneflowers if only to preserve it for future generations of gardeners to appreciate.

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