The coneflower is a large wildflower or garden perennial and can range from one foot to five feet tall depending on the species or sub-species (Explore Cornell, 2006). They have long, rigid, leaved stems that extend to a bare stems topped with a spiny cone of seeds surrounded by rays of petals much like those of a daisy or a sunflower (Ehrlich, n.d.). The rays are typically purple to pink but can be yellow or white depending on the variety, as there are nine species and four sub-species of Echinacea (Carey & Avent, 2012). Echinacea, which means hedgehog in Greek, is found in many perennial gardens today, but it has also had a significant impact as an herbal remedy throughout history and around the world.
The stem of the Echinacea is rigid and has rough, jagged leaves at the base. The leaves have three main veins, one of which is central. Between the veins are more small veins in a web-like pattern. At the top of the stem nearing the flower, the stems are leafless (Katz, n.d.). Before the stem reaches the flower, it becomes what is called the involucre. The involucre consists of modified leaves that extend from the stem outward underneath the cone to support the ray formation of the petals. Each leaf in the involucre is known as a phyllary, and the flower can be identified by its unique phyllaries (Conrad, 2016). The unique phyllaries of the coneflower include 15-50 phyllaries on each stem in a two to four series formation. The phyllaries of the flower then meet with the cone of the plant and the petals of the plant. The petals or rays surrounding the cone, or disc, and resting on the phyllaries begin as concave petals, but as the plant matures, they become convex. The cone is considered the disc of the flower and is where the seeds of Echinacea are located. The feather-like structures attached to the seeds are called pappi, which grown into achenes at plant maturity and serve as parachute-like vehicles to transport seeds. Pappi or achenes are well-known on dandelions that have gone to seed, as they can be blown off the stem at maturity, which has become a popular activity for children. The pappi of Echinacea are shaped like cup-like crowns, and they are unique to the flower (Conrad, 2016).
The coneflower can be propagated in the garden if the heads are left on, so the seeds can be transported by the achenes (formerly pappi) to the ground. Otherwise, they can be planted by seed or divided. The florets attract pollinators, such as bees, to the plant once it blooms. The color of the flower is vibrant until it is pollinated, so modern versions of the plant that are more sterile stay colorful longer. Florets don’t release all of their pollen at once, but they release it over several days, so a gardener can use this to predict how long the flowers will remain vivid (Carey & Avent, 2012). Coneflowers will grow in regions three to nine and prefer full sun. They are hearty plants and tolerate drought well, and they prefer soil that drains well (Explore, 2006).
The family of Echinacea purpurea is the Composite family, the same family where daisies reside (Hanrahan & Odle, 2005). This family of flowers is also called Asteracea, and it is one of the biggest families of flowers with the most species. They are considered the newest on the evolutionary scale and are the most commonly encountered family of flowers on Earth today. There are 23,000 species of this family in the world. However, Echinacea has been hybridized and the wild flowers harvested to an extent that efforts are being made to preserve the wildflower from extinction in its original form. There are three types of Composite flowers, those with ray petals, those with cone petals, and those with both ray and cone petals. The coneflower has only ray petals. Composite flowers also have unique pappi and unique phyllaries (Conrad, 2016).
Echinacea has been used for 400 years, first by the Great Plains Indians. They used the flowers, leaves, and roots to treat many ailments. The plant was discovered by Europeans in the 17th Century by a natural historian who had been sent to America. He sent it to Europe in 1699. By 1895, coneflower was a popular European herbal remedy, and scientists began to alter the plant in Germany sometime in the 1960s. The plant lost some of its popularity in 1950 when antibiotics became available, but it has regained popularity as an herbal remedy over the past couple decades (Carey & Avent, 2012). In 2013, sales of Echinacea increased by 95 percent, and it is now a 28 million dollar industry nationally (Axe, 2015). Today, scientists claim the herb benefits the treatment of cancer, pain, inflammatory disease, mental health, upper respiratory issues, and infection. It also boosts the immune system and works as a gentle laxative (Axe, 2015). Echinacea can be taken in many forms including tea, capsule, and liquid extracts (Leigh, n.d.).
The physical characteristics of Echinacea provide a formidable addition to any perennial garden, and it is popularly seen in hot, dry climates, as it tends to survive the elements. It is easy to recognize the flower by its ray petal pattern but also by its distinctive cone of seeds that emerges from the center of the plant. Echinacea is also commonly seen on grocery store shelves and in herbal stores, as it remains a historic cure-all for many ailments.
- Axe, J. (2015). 9 Echinacea Benefits from Colds to Cancer – Dr. Axe. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://draxe.com/echinacea-benefits/
- Conrad, J. (2016, May 28). Composite Flowers. The Backyard Nature Website. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from http://www.backyardnature.net/fl_comps.htm.
- Carey, D & Avent, T. (2012, Oct.). Echinacea explosion – the coneflower chronicles. Plant Delights Nursery. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from http://www.plantdelights.com/Article/Echinacea-Coneflower
- Ehrlich, S. D. (n.d.). Echinacea. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/echinacea
- Explore Cornell – Home Gardening – Flower Growing Guides – Growing Guide. (2006). Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene1d08.html
- Hanrahan, Clare; Odle, Teresa. “Echinacea.” Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. (2005). Retrieved June 01, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435100276.html
- Leigh, E. (n.d.). HRF Greenpapers: Echinacea. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://www.herbs.org/greenpapers/echinacea.html