The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a common species you will see growing in garden borders that is also a wildflower. Purple coneflower comes in many cultivars for garden use but in the wild exists in open woodlands and prairie grasslands. The purple coneflower belongs to the Asteraceae family of plants, with relatives such as the common sunflower, chicory and daisy fleabane.
The purple coneflower can grow as high as 3.5 feet, and the stems possess a few white hairs and streaks of purple throughout. The leaves grow as long as 6 inches and have a broad lance-shape, with edges that feature serrations. The upper part of the leaves is a darker green, marked with from three to five obvious veins. Branching off from the main stem are smaller stems upon which the flowers develop.
The disk portion of a purple coneflower
The purple coneflower’s bloom has two major aspects to it. The central disk that contains numerous tiny brownish flowers is one, and the rays that surround this disk are the other. The disk part of the flower rises and gives the appearance of a rounded cone, while the rays, which may number as many as 20, droop downward from the edges. The rays are a purple-pinkish shade; the entire flower is from 3 to 4 inches across.
Areas that receive full or partial sun are the best for purple coneflowers, but when drought conditions occur, the plant will require water or the entire specimen will wilt. Soil that is moist and fertile easily supports the purple coneflower, although the species will grow if some clay or some gravel is in the mix. Diseases that affect the leaves are not a serious threat to the purple coneflower, which will bloom from July through the middle of fall in most of its natural range. Japanese beetles are a threat in some regions of the United States.
The range of the purple coneflower includes the eastern part of North America, from Quebec southward through much of New England and into the Deep South. The plant’s range extends as far west as states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa. Purple coneflowers grow along the side of the road, in dry clearings, in floodplain forests and on the open prairie.
Purple coneflowers have a slight aroma in full sun, says the Illinois Wildflower website. The genus name of Echinacea comes from the Greek word echino, meaning hedgehog; this refers to the raised spiny disk of flowers in the center of the rays. Purple coneflowers are an ingredient in an herbal tea that some people assert has the ability to enhance the immune system, says the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers." Butterflies species such as swallowtails and monarchs are frequent visitors to this flower.