Originally posted 5/24/2011
Although my home landscape has slowly transitioned from a full sun setting to a part shade environment due to the maturity of my trees, I strive to find at least a couple of spots for sun-loving plants. After all, there are many, many beautiful bloomers that prefer full, to mostly full, sun. I would not wish to be without a few of these sun worshipers to admire each summer.
A sun-loving, easy to grow perennial that I enjoy very much is the Purple Coneflower. This plant, native to the midwestern and southeastern United States, stands an impressive 2.5 to 3 feet tall and produces rather large flower heads at a size about equal to the perimeter of a baseball. The spiny, burnt orange center of the flower vibrantly contrasts against its smooth lavender petals. As the plant sends up stalks in the late spring, you will see multiples of these flower heads begin to emerge. First, they appear upright and shaped like daisies but as the flower continues to mature, its petals bend further and further back, reminiscent of a bold warrior baring his proud chest to the sun.
Probably the greatest attribute of the Purple Coneflower is its staying power. The flowers are very long-lasting on the stalk and if you wish to bring their beauty indoors, they will stay fresh a full week as cut flowers. However, by allowing the flowers to remain on the stalk and go to seed, you will be certain to attract a variety of butterflies and eventually, small birds to your property. Much like they do with sunflowers, birds (especially finches) will flock to partake of the dried seed found in the center of the Purple Coneflower.
An interesting aspect of the Purple Coneflower has nothing to do with its appearance. As you’ve browsed the vitamin and supplement aisle at the local drug or grocery store, there is no doubt you have seen Echinacea tablets and/or tinctures on the shelf. Purple Coneflower, also known by its scientific name, Echinacea, has been used as an herb to promote the immune system and shorten the lifespan of ailments, such as the common cold and sore throat, for centuries. Evidence of seed pods excavated at ancient American Indian archaeological sites suggest the plant was used for medicinal purposes in the US over 400 years ago.
But, I must caution, Echinacea may not be safe for everyone. While I very much believe in the benefits of vitamins, minerals and some herbs, I will not take Echinacea – for two reasons. Numero uno – remember I compared Purple Coneflower to daisies and sunflowers? Well, it turns out they are all part of the same family – Asterceae. Incidentally, another plant that is part of the Astercea family is Ragweed – a plant of which I am highly allergic! Secondly, because Echinacea is thought to enhance a person’s immune system, it is not usually recommended for anyone with an autoimmune condition. Persons with autoimmune conditions, such as allergies, arthritis, lupus, MS, etc., already have an over-active immune system and Echinacea could very well make their condition worse. The bottom line is to be sure and consult with your physician before taking any supplement, especially Echinacea.
So, while I can appreciate the history and medicinal uses of the Purple Coneflower, I must remain content just sowing and growing it. But as you can see from the photos above, it is a stunning ornamental that can easily be admired, even from a distance.
I hope you consider adding a little purple to one of your sunny spots!
Until next time –