Of all the varieties of Echinacea available, Tennessee Coneflower has to be one of the best for residential gardens. It’s small size make it versatile in almost any flower bed and it has a very long bloom time of up to 3 months. I’ve fallen in love with this plant, and I bet you would too.
In this article:
- What is Tennessee Coneflower
- What are the benefits of Tennessee Coneflower
- Identification / Characteristics
- How to Grow and Care for Tennessee Coneflower
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect Tennessee Coneflower
- Where to buy Tennessee Coneflower
- Uses of Tennessee Coneflower
What is Tennessee Coneflower
Tennessee Coneflower is a herbaceous perennial flower endemic to cedar glades within several counties in Tennessee. Scientifically known as Echinacea tennesseenis, it will grow 2′ tall by 1.5′ wide in full sun and well draining soil. Blooming from June though August, the lovely pink blooms attract bees, butterflies, and birds will eat the seeds.  
Tennessee Coneflower was first described by American botanist John Kunkel Small in 1903.  He recorded it being on “gravely hillsides” of Tennessee and Arkansas. The species was thought to be extinct, until it was rediscovered by renowned botanist Dr. Elsie Quarterman in 1969. She found and identified 6 isolated populations within cedar glades in the Nashville basin of Tennessee, which is now their accepted native range. 
Native Range of Tennessee Coneflower
Thus, as expected, the native range of Tennessee Coneflower is, well, Tennessee. More specifically, it is endemic to the cedar glades in just three Tennessee counties: Davidson, Wilson, and Rutherford.
Natural Habitat of Tennessee Coneflower
Tennessee Coneflower evolved over eons within the cedar glades in the Tennessee forests. Cedar glades are characterized as having shallow soil on top of limestone, mixed in with exposed limestone outcroppings. The soil is too shallow for trees to grow, thus certain herbaceous flowers and grasses have and adapted to the glades. 
This in turn means that the forests are dotted with these isolated, exposed cedar glades. The ecosystem that evolves within the glades have to be able to cope with full sun, moist soil in the Spring, and droughts in the heat of Summer. Thus they are some of the most isolated and unique ecosystems with dozens of species of unique plants that are only endemic to these areas.
Tennessee Coneflower Reference Table
|Scientific Name||Echinacea tennesseensis|
|Common Name(s)||Tennessee Coneflower|
|Native Range, USDA Zone||Tennessee, Zones 5-6|
|Bloom Time||June through August|
|Bloom Duration, Color||3 Months, pink petals|
|Height||1-2′ (30-60 cm)|
|Spacing / Spread||12″-18″ (30-45 cm)|
|Light Requirements||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Types||Sandy loam to clay, well drained|
|Moisture||Dry to moist, but well-draining|
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts||Bees, butterflies, birds|
What are the Benefits of Tennessee Coneflower
Tennessee Coneflower blooms lovely pink to purple flowers that are erect and look beautiful. The individual flowers almost have the shape of a satellite dish or up-turned umbrella, which is quite a contrast from other members of the Echinacea genus. Planting several specimens together can give your garden a pop of color.
Long Bloom Time
Blooming from June through August makes this one of the longest blooming perennials I’ve grown. This will keep a flower bed looking great for most of the growing season. 
One of the smaller Echinacea species, it’s compact and non-spreading nature make Tennessee Coneflower one of the more versatile, and residential friendly plants to grow.
Tennessee Coneflower is very adaptable when it comes to growing conditions. It grows within and on the periphery or forest edge of the cedar glades in Tennessee, meaning it prefers full sun or partial shade. The shallow soil of the cedar glades also subject it to very moist to very dry conditions throughout the growing season, so once established it can withstand a drought. 
Identification and Characteristics of Tennessee Coneflower
The stalks will be round, hairy, and light green in color. No branching will be present, and they will rise 1-2′ tall terminating with individual flowers. 
The base of the plant will have linear or narrowly-lanceolate basal leaves whorled around the rootstock that are roughly 6″ long by 3/8″-1/2″ wide. The margins have small hairs and are ciliate. On the stalk are smaller leaves of similar shape, alternate along the stem. 
Individual daisy like flowers approximately 3″ diameter will be at the end of the stalks. The central disc flowers will be surrounded radially by 20 ray flowers (petals). Colors range from light pink, lavender, to dark rich magenta pink in color. The flowers are very beautiful. 
After the flowers fade, over the course of the next several weeks seeds will form within the disc flower and at the base of the ray flowers (petals). When the seed head looks black and dry, you can harvest the seed heads.
Saving Tennessee Coneflower seed is quite easy. You just need to follow the same process as with other Echinacea species. But basically allow the seed heads to dry in a cool dry location for about a week. Then, place them in a plastic container with a lid such as a coffee can. Shake the can, and the seed (and chaff) will fall out of the head.
Doing the above method will avoid getting pricked by the sharp spines on the disc flowers!
But be aware! If you are growing other species or varieties of Echinacea nearby, the seeds may have hybridized. Thus you may get a very different plant than what you were expecting, perhaps a cross between Echinacea purpurea and Tennessee Coneflower!  
The root system of Tennessee Coneflower consists of a spreading taproot that will grow 10-20″ long and generally be contained in the top 12″ of soil. This fits with the cedar glad environment in which it evolved. 
Grow and Care for Tennessee Coneflower
Caring for Tennessee Coneflower is really quite easy. Just plant it in a location that matches it’s preferred growing conditions, or conditions that it will at least tolerate, and you should have no trouble maintaining a healthy plant.  
Tennessee Coneflower will grow best in full sun (6+ hours of direct sunlight) but can tolerate partial shade (4-6 hours direct sun).  That it loves full sun makes complete sense when we think about how they evolved, as the nature of the cedar glades is large openings surrounded by dense forest. The plant size and flowering will increase as sunlight increases.
For soil, Tennessee Coneflower is quite adaptable in that it can grow in sandy loam, loam, or clay. The key thing is that it needs adequate drainage. If you are unsure of how your soil drains, see our guide on how to test your soil drainage.
For growing conditions Tennessee Coneflower grows best in moist for soil that drains well. These conditions will produce the largest plants with the most flowers. Once established, Tennessee Coneflower will still grow well in mesic conditions. Research found that photosynthesis and biomass was best in moist, well draining soil. 
Tennessee Coneflower can survive drought. But in extreme cases shoots may die back or die completely. Seedlings generally die during prolonged droughts.
Once upon a time people (and some references today) thought that Tennessee Coneflower would only grow well in average moisture to dry conditions. But the soil moisture of the cedar glades where Tennessee Coneflower evolved is quite variable. They may have to go from very wet conditions to very dry condition. But the key is that the water must be able to drain. Research in a greenhouse found that photosynthesis & biomass was best in moist soil. And at cedar glades, photosynthesis was lowest in dry conditions. 
Their taproot is what allows gives Tennessee Coneflower this adaptability. But, it needs time to grow and establish the taproot system. So first year plants, or transplants purchased at a native plant nursery should be given supplemental water during times of drought.
Tennessee Coneflower doesn’t require any special maintenance outside of cutting the stalks back to ground in the Spring, once temperatures have warmed up.
You do not need to provide supplemental fertilizer to Tennessee Coneflower. As a native plant, it has adapted to thrive without any special care as long as it is planted in tolerable sun/soil/moisture conditions.
How to Grow Tennessee Coneflower from Seed
The seeds of Tennessee Coneflower aren’t that difficult to grow from seed. To break it’s dormancy, it needs a cold moist stratification period. Studies found that for the highest germination rate the seed should be cold-moist stratified at 41F for 9-12 weeks.  So, you should plan on winter-sowing or using the fridge to cold stratify the seeds. We’ve written detailed guides on both Winter Sowing and cold-stratification if you are unfamiliar.
Process to grow Tennessee Coneflower from seed
The following steps assume winter sowing, or seeds that have been cold stratified in the refrigerator. I really have to stress that winter sowing would be the preferred way to germinate Tennessee Coneflower seeds. Planting the seeds by Christmas would allow enough cold days and evenings to break dormancy.
- Fill a suitable container with moistened potting soil. The soil should be moist enough so that when one squeezes a handful, only a few drops of water should fall out.
- Plant 3-5 Tennessee Coneflower seeds 1/8″-1/4″ (3-6mm) deep.
- Place the container in a location that will receive morning sun and afternoon shade. This step is important, as it will help ensure that the seedlings will not dry out after germination, but still receive enough morning sunlight.
- Germination should occur once daytime temperatures are reliable above 70F.
Establishment of seedlings
During the first year from seed germination Tennessee Coneflower will not flower, it will only produce visible basal leaves. That is because it is primarily focusing on producing it’s taproot rootstock. Plants will flower in their second year though.
The first year seedlings/plants of Tennessee Coneflower should be protected from drought. Research and field observations documented that most seedlings succumbed to drought during particularly hot years. While 70%-80% of seedlings in the field survived in normal rainfall years.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Tennessee Coneflower
The primary pollinators to Tennessee Coneflower are bumblebees, honeybees, and several butterflies such as the Common Buckeye, Clouded Sulphur, and White (Pieris spp.). I generally observe bees on my small planting. 
All though generally pest free, cabbage loopers and thrips  have both been observed to cause damage to Tennessee Coneflower. Consult with your local county extension office for specific insecticide treatment of these pests if an infestation is severe. 
Deer and Rabbits
Deer have been observed browsing the flowerheads of Tennessee Coneflower.  I recommend that if deer are known to come into your flower beds that you protect your plants with Liquid Fence. I use it on my plants, and it does work. You can find a link to Liquid Fence on our recommended products page.
I have never come across any cases of disease on Tennessee Coneflower. But as a member of the Echinacea genus, it is quite possible that Tennessee Coneflower may be susceptible to Asters Yellow and Rosette Mite damage. As they are each transmitted via insect, it is important that you are aware of the symptoms.
Where you can buy Tennessee Coneflower
Tennessee Coneflower is not typically sold in big-box stores or large garden centers, as it is just a rare plant overall. Growing from seed is probably the best option to obtain this flower, and it will flower in it’s second year.
Sometimes it is available at specialty native plant nurseries. You can find what native nurseries are close to you on our interactive map.
Where to buy seeds
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.)
Uses of Tennessee Coneflower
Tennessee Coneflower is one of the best residential native plants to grow due to it’s versatility and compact size. It is not aggressive, it grows in full sun or partial shade, and most moisture levels as long as the soil drains well. Use it in formal flowerbeds or shorter border gardens, micro-prairies, or anywhere you would like to have a long-blooming perennial.
There are sooooo many plants that would grow well with Tennessee Coneflower that it is difficult to know where to begin! So, first let’s look at some plants that bloom concurrently with Tennessee Coneflower, and grow well in similar conditions;
- Winecups flower – a low growing ground cover that tolerates drought and loves full sun
- Black Eyed Susan (R. hirta) – a bienniel that produces yellow daisy like flowers with black centers
- Orange Coneflower (R. fulgida) – a perennial Black Eyed Susan.
- Liatris spicata – a perennial flower that makes tall purple spikes
- Blue Lobelia – a perennial that produces spikes of blue flowers. Attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Grows best in medium to moist soil.
- And who can forget Purple Coneflower – the big brother of Tennessee Coneflower.
For some companion plants that bloom before Tennessee Coneflower
- Virginia Bluebells – a Spring ephemeral that makes stunning displays of blue/pink flowers
- Hairy Beardtongue – a perennial that grows about 18″ tall, making lavender flowers that are favored by bees.
- Columbine – a perennial that blooms drooping red flowers and attracts hummingbirds.
And for some flowers that bloom after Tennessee Coneflower:
- Spotted Bee Balm – a short-lived perennial that makes amazing pink-yellow blooms. A bumblebee magnet.
- Aromatic Aster – a low growing aster that produces light-blue flowers. Sort of clump forming, and the absolute LAST flower to bloom before Autumn.
- White Turtlehead – a 2-3′ perennial that makes interesting white flowers that resembles, well, a turtlehead. It grows best in medium to moist soil (not drought tolerant).
There are many documented uses of Echinacea medicinally and as an herb. Primarily Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea angustifolia. It is widely available as over the counter supplement to treat raspatory symptoms, and possibly has some antiviral properties as well . Native Americans used it to treat almost any remedy . It’s use covered everything from toothaches, snake bites, colds, flu – it was a cure-all.
But Echinacea has had extensive research and is shown to be good at stimulating the immune system to prevent infection.  It is one of the commonly sold herbal supplements around the world.
That being said, while there is extensive documentation on other Echinacea species, Echinacea tennesseenis has not been widely researched or used, most likely due to it’s rarity.
 – Walck, Jeffrey L., Thomas E. Hemmerly, and Siti N. Hidayati. “The endangered Tennessee purple coneflower Echinacea tennesseensis (Asteraceae): its ecology and conservation.” Native Plants Journal 3.1 (2002): 54-64. Accessed 15FEB2022.
 – “Echinacea tennesseensis (Beadle) Small“. USDA NRCS Plant Database. Accessed 16FEB2022.
 – “Tennessee purple coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis)“, Federal Register 40.110 (1979): 32604, pp266. Accessed 15FEB2022. https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/6850
 – US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Removal of Echinacea tennesseensis (Tennessee purple coneflower) from the federal list of endangered and threatened plants.” Federal Register 79.149 (2011): 46632.
 – Small, John Kunkel. Flora of the southeastern United States: Being descriptions of the seed-plants, ferns and fern-allies growing naturally in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and the Indian territory and in Oklahoma and Texas east of the one-hundredth meridian. Small, 1903. Page 1262. Accessed 15FEB2022.
 – “A Crusader for Conservation“, Wild Side TV, YouTube, Sep 19, 2014. Accessed 16FEB2022.
 – Baskauf, Carol J., and William G. Eickmeier. “Comparative Ecophysiology of a Rare and a Widespread Species of Echinacea (Asteraceae).” American Journal of Botany (1994): 958-964. Accessed 15FEB2022.
 – Baskin, Jerry M., et al. “The comparative autecology of endemic, globally-rare, and geographically-widespread, common plant species: three case studies.” The Southwestern Naturalist (1997): 384-399.
 – Blasini, Dayvis, and Stuart Wagenius. “Assessment of the Effects of the Introduction of Non-native Echinacea Species in the Pollination of Native Echinacea angustifolia in Western Minnesota.” Assessment (2013).
 – Hemmerly, Thomas Ellsworth. Life cycle strategy of a highly endemic cedar glade species: Echinacea tennesseensis (Compositae). Vanderbilt University, 1976. 187 pages.
 – Snyder, Kristin M., Jerry M. Baskin, and Carol C. Baskin. “Comparative ecology of the narrow endemic Echinacea tennesseensis and two geographically widespread congeners: relative competitive ability and growth characteristics.” International Journal of Plant Sciences 155.1 (1994): 57-65. Accessed 14FEB2022
 – Foster, Steven. Echinacea: nature’s immune enhancer. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1991.
 – Echinacea sp.; North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 17FEB2022.
 – Robbers JE, Tyler VE. 1999. Tyler’s herbs of choice. Binghamton (NY): Haywood Press. 287 p. accessed 17FEB2022
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