Echinacea Purpurea 101 – Guide to Eastern Purple Coneflower


With long lasting blooms that pop with color, it is no wonder that Echinacea is one of the most popular flowers in the United States and the world. The large pink-purple daisy like blooms are beautiful and attract lots of bees, butterflies, and birds. I’ve grown this flower for over 8 years and will share all that I’ve learned with you!

In this article:

What is Echinacea purpurea?

Echinacea purpurea is a herbaceous perennial wildflower native to North America. Commonly known as Purple Coneflower, this species typically grows 3′ tall and prefers full sun with well-drained soil. Blooming from summer to fall, this showy flower attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.

This large multi-stemmed perennial will bloom for months beginning in Summer, and extending to frost if deadheaded. The long stems make this an excellent cut-flower. The foliage has a rough texture, and is browsed by rabbits and other herbivores. The native range is meadows, prairies, roadsides, and open woods. Echinacea purpurea has high value to wildlife of all kinds.

Echinacea purpurea with Rudbeckia planted as a companion

Echinacea Purpurea Reference Table

Scientific nameEchinacea purpurea
Common NamePurple Coneflower
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern United States, USDA Zones 3-9 [2]
Bloom TimeJune-August
Bloom Duration, Color4-8 weeks, Pink/Purple
Height2′-5′ (0.6m-1.5m)
Spacing/Spread18″-36″ (30 cm- 90 cm)
Light RequirementsFull sun, Partial Shade
Soil TypesAny soil that drains well.
MoistureDry to Medium Moisture
Fauna Associations / Larval HostHumming birds, bees [1], butterflies.

Benefits of Echinacea Purpurea

Echinacea purpurea has many benefits from aesthetics, ecological, and health.

Aesthetic benefits of Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea makes dark green, lush foliage at its base that will give way to long hairy stems. These stems will produce blooms that are long-lasting with vibrant shades of purple and pink. At home in exposed flower beds, these plants will be able to withstand strong winds and look great all growing season.

Wildlife benefits of Echinacea Purpurea

As a native plant, Echinacea purpurea provides value to many forms of wildlife.

  • Bees collect pollen and nectar
  • As a nectar source, Echinacea purpurea will attract butterflies [1]
  • Caterpillars of the Silvery Checkerspot and several moths will feed on the plant
  • Birds (particularly finches) will eat the seeds
  • Rabbits and deer will browse the foliage when young and tender
Bumblebee having a little nap on Echinacea

Health Benefits of Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea has been used as a preventative, and threaputic for the common cold. Research has shown that taking certain Echinacea products can reduce the odds of developing a cold by 58%, and reducing a cold’s duration by 1-2 days [3]. Other studies have found that there may be some benefits on Echinacea treatments that are made from the aerial parts of the plant [4].

Monarch Butterfly and Bee sharing an Echinacea bloom

Identification / Characteristics of Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea is easy to notice when blooming. You will have no trouble spotting a plant in a park, meadow, or just driving around a neighborhood. The larger appearance of 3-5′ combined with the large daisy-like flowers make it very conspicuous. But, here are a few characteristics to make you more certain.

Echinacea purpurea Stem/Stalk

Stalk of Echinacea purpurea

The stem is light green with small white hairs, giving it a rough texture. There is also some purple streaks on the stalk. Typical height is 3-4′ tall (1-1.2 m).

Echinacea makes a great cut flower because of the long, strong stalk. The stalk of Echinacea purpurea will have no leaves, and generally be at least 7-8″ long which allows it to fit most vases.

Echinacea Leaf

Leaves of Echinacea purpurea are lanceolate or ovate in shape, and rough to touch. They are around 6″ long by 3″ wide at the base of the plant, and smaller as they ascend the stalk. The edges of the leaves are serrated/saw-tooth.

Echinacea purpurea leaves

Echinacea purpurea Flower

Blooms of Echinacea purpurea are generally 2-4″ diameter, with 10-20 large petals that are pink or purple in appearance. The central cone is actually made up of many small ‘disc’ flowers which contain pollen and nectar.

Echinacea purpurea bloom with the yellow ‘pollen ring’ shown
Echinacea seed head

The flowers will bloom for approximately four weeks. You can prolong the blooming period by deadheading the flowers. However, seed heads will form 3-6 weeks after blooming, and the cones will become very prickly and hard.

If you are interested in saving seed from Echinacea, you should start paying close attention to the blooms. If you notice any bird damage, clip the heads and store in a brown paper bag until you are ready to extract the seed.

Echinacea Root

Echinacea purpurea has fibrous root. This makes it easy to divide large plants, or grow it in containers and pots.

Grow & Care – Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea is a very versatile plant for landscaping as it can tolerate and thrive in a variety of growing conditions. This makes Echinacea purpurea and excellent flower to grow for gardeners of all skill levels, beginner to advanced.

Echinacea plants will typically reach 3-4′ in height (1-1.2 m). And they can get somewhat wide. [1] So, plants should be spaced 18-36″ apart to avoid overcrowding.

Echinacea purpurea Growing Conditions

I’m going to tell you the best conditions for Echinacea purpurea below. And if you plant your Echinacea in those conditions, the plant will be large, vigorous, and healthy without any special care or fertilization.

Sunlight Requirements for Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea will reach it’s maximum size in full sun, which is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. However, it will do just fine in partial shade as well. If grown in partial shade, expect the plant to be shorter and not produce as many blooms.

Moisture requirements for Echinacea

For moisture conditions, Echinacea purpurea likes medium mositure, but can tolerate slightly wet to slightly dry conditions, as it is fairly drought tolerant.

So, not too wet, or not too dry. As long as you don’t plant it somewhere that it could be in standing water after rain, or a barren hillside that is overly dry it should be fine.

Watch for drought

In high heat, and dry periods Echinacea may wilt of have it’s leaves droop. This is a sign that the plant needs some supplemental water. I see this happen on my own plants if they are baked in the afternoon sun during dry periods.

Soil Types for Echinacea

Again, Echinacea purpurea is versatile in that it can grow well in nearly all types of soil (even poor infertile soil)! This is a clay busting perennial that can also handle rocky or somewhat loose soil. However, if planting in very sandy soil, you should consider amending with some compost at the initial planting.

Echinacea grows very well in Clay!

I grow this all over my yard, and through some simple DIY soil testing I’ve found that I have a sandy loam per the USDA soil pyramid. So, a bit on the sandy side, but it does great. In our previous house, which had clay soil, I grew lots of Echinacea purpurea and it grew wonderfully.

General Care of Echinacea purpurea

If you plant Echinacea purpurea in its preferred growing conditions, it will not require much supplemental care. In fact, it will not require any fertilizer or treatments. It is a native plant that is very adaptable to a variety of conditions.

When to divide Echinacea purpurea

However, every 3rd to 5th year you should consider dividing Echinacea purpurea. If you do not, the root mass will grow very large, and the center portion may die out, creating a hollow looking plant.

I’ve written a detailed step by step guide to divide Echinacea purpurea here.

How to deadhead Echinacea

Deadheading Echinacea is quite easy. You simply follow a spent bloom down its stem until you reach a junction of leaves. Then, you simply clip the stem at this junction.

If you promptly remove spent blooms, you will encourage flowering until frost. I had Echinacea blooming until the end of October at my mailbox this year.

How to grow Echinacea purpurea from seed

Growing Echinacea purpurea from seed is easy. In fact I believe it to be one of the best seeds for a beginner gardener to purchase, as it readily germinates.

Now, I’ve written up a very detailed process on how to grow all Echinacea types from seed, but I’ll just give you the details on Echinacea purpurea here. This won’t work for other species of Echinacea, as they need stratificaiton.

To grow Echinacea purpurea from seed in Spring, fill pots with a moist potting soil 1/2″ from the top (12 mm). Then, plant 3-5 seeds 1/8″-1/4″ deep. Place the pot in a location where it will receive morning sun and afternoon shade. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy wet. You can expect germination within two weeks.

2-3 day old Echinacea seedling

Purchase Seed

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

How long will it take Echinacea purpurea to bloom when grown from seed?

Echinacea purpurea started from seed will generally bloom by the second year. So, the first year you will be seeing a lot of green foliage, but no stalks or flowers. But don’t be discouraged! The young plant is just building up it’s root crown. You will be treated to pink/purple blooms in it’s second growing season.

Saving seed

Now, once you got a blooming Echinacea, you never need to buy seed again! Echinacea purpurea will produce lots of seed. And it is easy to save – just shake dried seed heads in a coffee can. And voila! Hundreds of seeds! Just make sure you are faster then the birds!

I have a detailed guide on saving seed here, where you can see a short video of the process.

Echinacea seed heads and seed coneflower
Echinacea Purpurea (Coneflower) seeds

Will my Echinacea purpurea spread throughout the garden?

Echinacea purpurea spreads via self-seeding. If you grow it in a mulched flower bed with mulch spaces between plants, you will get new Echinacea plants every Spring. But Echinacea does not spread via rhizome roots.

Wildlife Associations, Pests, diseases

Faunal Associations

Echinacea purpurea is one of the best flowers for attracting wildlife to your garden. It brings in numerous insects and pollinators, as well as many birds. It truly has high ecological value! But there are also a few things to watch out for, that I will tell you about.

Pollinators of Echinacea

Echinacea purpurea produces both pollen and nectar, so it will attract many different types of bees, butterflies (even Monarchs feed on it), and hummingbirds.

If your goal is to attract pollinators, make sure you plant at least several plants. Pollinators are attracted to large quantities flowers, as opposed to single specimens.

Birds

When seed heads have formed, you will begin to see birds landing on them. They are picking the seeds out, so Echinacea purpurea is a flower that acts as a natural bird feeder for your yard! Goldfinches are the primary visitors to Coneflower seed heads.

Godlfinch perched on an Echinacea purpurea seed head

Deer and Rabbits

While Echinacea purpurea is often considered Deer and Rabbit resistant, I have had a different experience. I have found that both deer and rabbits (rabbits especially) will eat the young foliage on emerging Echinacea plants and seedlings. They will browse the seedlings enough so that it is fatal to the plant.

Once the plant has lived to it’s second year, it will be browsed less often. And mainly in the first few weeks after emerging in the Spring.

I believe that once the leaves develop their hairs/rough texture, the herbivores don’t like eating them as much. At least that has been my experience over the last 7-8 years.

Protecting Echinacea from Deer and Rabbits

You can protect Echinacea purpurea, and other plants from deer and rabbit damage by applying liquid fence. It truly works. I have been using it since 2013. You can find a link to the concentrate at our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE page, which is the most economical way to purchase.

Disease and Pests of Echinacea purpurea

There are several diseases and pests that can have adverse effects on Echinacea purpurea. Most are fairly easy to manage or can be avoided by garden design/location. But we will cover them now.

Japanese Beetles

An invasive species commonly known as the Japanese Beetle will eat the foliage of Echinacea purpurea, causing damage. The damage won’t be fatal to the plant, but will make it unsightly.

Asters Yellow

A very bad disease to effect Echinacea purpurea is Asters Yellow. Asters Yellow is caused by a microbe called phytoplasma. The primary symptom of Asters Yellow on Echinacea purpurea is green, misshapen flowers that never develop their normal color. [5]

The phytoplasma, which is slightly smaller than bacteria infects the plant. Another small insect, known as a leaf-hopper will catch the ‘germ’ and spread it from plant to plant. Many different plants can catch the disease, not just Asters or Echinacea. [6]

Common flowers such as Zinnia, daisy, marigold, carrots and tomatoes are all susceptible to Asters Yellow.

There is no treatment for Asters Yellow. You must remove the plant and throw it in the trash to minimize the spread.

Rosette Mite Damage

If you notice deformed flowers that appear to have a second central disc forming on top of the original, you may have Coneflower Rosette mites. These mites are extremely tiny, much smaller than other mites and are hard to detect by themselves – but you will notice the damage done to the flowers.

These mites have not been taxonimcally studied yet, but are within the Eriophyid family. But the mites will live in the flower head, and suck sap similar to an aphid. [7]

This is one of my flowers, and it appears to have the mite damage based on the ‘tufted head’. I discarded several blooms that looked similar.

So far, there is no chemical treatment available. To control the mite damage on Echinacea, cut off and dispose of any flowers that present a ‘second’ flower head/disc. You will be reducing the population and limiting the spread. Repeated cutting should eliminate the problem.

Leaf Spot Fungus

Another common disease that can effect Echinacea is leaf spot fungus. This is just a run of the mill fungus that will grow on warm, moist plant surfaces. It is unsightly, but not often fatal.

You can prevent leaf spot fungus by planting in full sun and spacing the plants apart to increase the airflow. Sunlight + air movement will create dry leaves, which will prevent the fungus from ever forming.

However, should your plants get leaf spot fungus, you can spray with a number of fungicides such as liquid copper. Just ask at your local home garden center.

Where to buy Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea is readily available at numerous garden centers. Anything from big-box stores to small ‘mom and pop’ nurseries carry Echinacea purpurea. This is due to it’s popularity as an ornamental flower.

Just make sure you read the tag, as they sometimes try to pass of hybrids as native plants. Hybrids will not have viable seed, or it won’t produce the plant it came from. And if you purchase a variety that has different color blooms, pollinators may not visit it as they won’t recognize the color. [8]

Where to purchase seed

Likewise, seeds are available at any number of stores – big box or small mom-&-pop garden centers.

If you are looking for an online source, we recommend Everwilde Seed. I’ve purchased many times from them, and their quality, delivery speed, and customer service have been great.

Uses of Echinacea purpurea

Garden Uses

Echinacea purpurea is at home in a regular manicured flower bed as well as a wildflower or border! It really looks great almost anywhere as long as it gets plenty of sun.

Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia, and Lanceleaf Coreopsis

I have about 12 plants in our backyard micro-prairie, and they look wonderful for several months. I also grow several plants in exposed flower beds near our mailbox and light pole, as well as a regular manicured flower bed.

Our backyard micro-prairie!

Companion Plants for Echinacea purpurea

To help create a stunning display, there are some other great perennial flowers that pair nicely with Echinacea. The bloom periods overlap, and they enjoy similar growing conditions.

Medicinal Uses

Echinacea is available as an herbal supplement to treat the common cold. Many people who take it swear that it can reduce the severity of the cold, although research results have been mixed [4].

Native American Medicinal Uses

Two Native American tribes have documented uses of Echinacea root for medicinal purposes. [9]

The Choctaw used a tincture of the root for cough medicine and gastrointestinal medicine. While the Delaware used the root in an infusion for venereal aid.

Learn more about Echinacea….

References:

[1] – Mary Free and Dave Close. Creating Inviting Habitats. Virginia Cooperative Extension. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Pub# HORT-59NP. Page 4,7,19 – 2013 https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/98897/HORT-59.PDF.pdf?sequence=1

[2] – Echinacea Purpurea, USDA database. https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ECPU Retrieved 25JAN2021.

[3] – Sachin A Shah, Stephen Sander, C Michael White, Mike Rinaldi, Craig I Coleman, Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Volume 7, Issue 7, 2007, Pages 473-480, ISSN 1473-3099, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(07)70160-3.

[4] – Klaus Linde, Bruce Barrett, Rudolf Bauer, Dieter Melchart, Karin Woelkart. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane library. Version published: 25 January 2006 https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub2

[5] – G. R. Stanosz, M. F. Heimann, and I.-M. Lee. Purple Coneflower Is a Host of the Aster Yellows Phytoplasma. Plant Disease 1997 81:4, 424-424 . https://apsjournals.apsnet.org/doi/abs/10.1094/PDIS.1997.81.4.424C

[6] – Christine Engelbrecht, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. September 13, 2006, p103-104. Retrieved 26JAN2021 https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2006/9-13/asteryellows.html

[7] – Joe Bogs, Coneflower Cleanup, Ohio State University Extension. August 27, 2017. Retrieved 26JAN2021. https://bygl.osu.edu/node/881

[8] White, Annie, “From Nursery to Nature: Evaluating Native Herbaceous Flowering Plants Versus Native Cultivars for Pollinator Habitat Restoration” (2016). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 626.https://scholarworks.uvm.edu/graddis/626 Retrieved 26JAN2021

[9] – Native American Ethnobotany Database – Echinacea Purpurea. Retrieved 26JAN2021. http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=echinacea+purpurea

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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