Every gardener with a hint of do-it-yourself ethos in them should save seeds from Echinacea (Coneflower) to propagate more plants! One single Echinacea plant can yield 500 or more seeds depending on the available number of blooms in a given year. Your only competition for harvesting the seed is the birds, particularly gold finches who love to land on the seed heads and pick out the seeds. You can then grow as many plants as you want, or your garden can handle for basically no money!
Coneflowers generally cost $5-$15 in the garden center depending on size. If you are willing to wait until the second year for flowers, then you can have as many plants as you want for very little money if you just grow them from seed! I generally grow 10-20 plants per year and it doesn’t cost me anything. I’ve shared them with family and friends, as it is a great way to increase the number of native plants. People are very open to natives once they find out they can get them for free from me!
Echinacea – Physical Description
Echinacea is a genus of flower that is comprised of 10 species, and is in the Daisy Family of flowers. These herbaceous flowers are native to North America and very beneficial to pollinators and birds. Depending on the species they generally reach 3-4 feet tall (0.9-1.2 m) by 1-3’ wide (30-90 cm). Echinaceas have daisy-like flowers that bloom for a long time in mid-summer to early Fall. All species of Echinacea are perennial flowers that are hardy in USDA garden zones 3-8. Multiple blooms will be on the top of tall stalks that all come from a central clump of green leaves that are large, long, and pointed.
The most common species is Echinacea Purpurea, also known as Purple Coneflower, and that is what I will use for my example of how to harvest Echinacea seeds.
The first step may seem obvious, but it is actually more important than you think. Once you have identified some plants, if they are in the wild then they are most likely true native species, or cultivars. However, if you are going to save seeds from a strange colored (orange or red) Coneflower then you should be aware that the plant could be a hybrid. If the plant is a hybrid, then the seed produced may either not be viable, or will germinate some other flower. That is because hybrids are produced by cross pollinating two plants. Most often the seeds from a hybrid will either be sterile or produce one of the parent plants. So, if you are ‘borrowing’ some seed from a neighbor, be sure to get an actual ID on the plant before you save the seeds.
2 – Collect seed heads
A couple of weeks after the flowers have bloomed, seeds will form. On Echinacea, there are actually two places on the seed head to collect seeds. At the base of each petal, and within the ‘cone’ of the cone flower itself.
It is a good idea to wear some gloves, have clippers and a paper bag for holding seed heads. But you can let the seed head completely dry out and turn brown/gray before cutting off the head. Or, you can cut it off about 6” down the stalk and then hang the stalk upside down in a cool dry place, until it is fully dry.
Either way, you should allow the seed heads to fully dry out before harvesting, or allow the seeds themselves to dry for a week after you have separated the seed.
3 – Remove seed from the seed head
Now this is where my process for saving Echinacea seeds is the BEST! As you will know by now, the ‘cone’ or seed head is quite prickly, and not fun to handle. So, rather than taking clippers and cutting up the seed head to release seeds, we are going to do something else. Get a container that is at least 6” diameter by 6” tall, like an old plastic coffee can. Put several seed heads into the coffee can, secure the lid, and shake it vigorously! After about 5-10 seconds of shaking the seed will be released from the cones.
Then you can just open the lid, remove the seed heads. What will be left in the can is primarily good, viable Echinacea seed (and a small amount of chaff). You can now let the seed dry out for another week or so on a plate, or somewhere cool and dry (and not in direct sunlight).
3.1 – Sift the seed to remove chaff (Optional)
If you don’t want some chaff mixed in with your seed then I have another tip. You can use a common kitchen strainer to remove the chaff. Just pour the seed/chaff mix in a strainer, and gently toss the strainer. If you do this outside most of the chaff will either fall or blow away. If inside, much of it will fall through the strainer. This is entirely up to you. I don’t mind the chaff, but hey – to each their own.
4 – Store the seed
I store my Echinacea seed in random plastic containers or jars. Plastic baggies or zip-lock bags work well too. In my experience, the seed will be viable for several years after harvest. But in each passing year the percentage of seed that will sprout decreases a bit.
Well that’s it! I hoped you enjoyed the article. If you have any tips to share or questions – ask me in the comments!
Also, I made a video describing the process a while back on youtube. I’ve linked to the video below, so you can see the whole process from start to finish in action.
And before you go…
You may want to check out our comprehensive guide on saving flower seeds! I collect a lot of my seed from the wild, as that is the cheapest way to get seed. It also ensures I am growing plants that are well adapted for my local ecosystem. Check it out for some more tips!