University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Coneflowers (Echinacea) shouldn’t be called purple coneflowers anymore, as there are many new cultivars (cultivated varieties) with various flower colors and shapes.  This genus of perennials, native to the central and eastern U.S., has been one of the most popular in recent years.  Many of the new hybrids are the result of crosses of several species including purple (purpurea), yellow (paradoxa), and Tennessee (tennesseensis) coneflowers. 

Like the purple traditional coneflower, all are quite hardy to USDA zone 4 (-20 to -30 degrees F), and many to even colder sites.  They are also fairly maintenance free, with few pests and diseases, and are generally deer resistant.  Under ideal conditions in some areas coneflowers may seed around the garden, producing new unknown hybrids.

Coneflowers, once established, are drought tolerant.  They do prefer well-drained soil, and full sun for best bloom.  Flowers in mid summer are very attractive to butterflies, the seedheads in fall are attractive to migrating birds.  Many also are fragrant.

Unlike the purple traditional coneflower, many of these new hybrids have flower petals that are held horizontal, not drooping down (reflexed).  Often their stems are erect and strong, so don’t need staking as do some older cultivars and species.  Most are similar in height, about three feet tall more or less, while the lower ones are about half that height.

White was one of the first changes in coneflowers some years ago, with cultivars such as ‘White Swan’ and ‘White Star’, the former being more popular and still readily found.  Then came ‘Kim’s Mop Head’, a shorter selection just 12 to 15 inches tall.  It was selected by nurseryman Pierre Bennerup in Connecticut, and named for Kim Hawkes of Niche Gardens in North Carolina who introduced the short purple ‘Kim’s Knee High’ (of which ‘Kim’s Mop Head’ is a sport).   A recent white introduction with large flowers is ‘Fragrant Angel’.  ‘Primadonna White’ is a recent introduction, with larger flowers than ‘White Swan’ that last longer as well.

Several new purple to pinkish coneflowers have been introduced including the ‘Kim’s Knee High’ just mentioned; ‘Bright Star’ with large, rose-pink drooping petals;  ‘Indiaca’ with single pink drooping petals the first year and some “double deckers” or “mopheads” the second, on low plants; ‘Double Decker’ (‘Doppelganger’) with smaller petals arising out of the top of the central cone; ‘Magnus’ with large, less dropping rose-pink flowers; the older ‘Rubinstern’ with carmine-red less drooping large flowers; the recent ‘Little Giant’ with large, rose pink flowers on dwarf plants; and the recent ‘Primadonna Rose’ with double flowers. 

‘Razzmatazz’ from Europe, forming rose-pink pom pom flowers, has been around a few years now.  Similar and new, from Holland, is ‘Pink Double Delight’.  ‘Fatal Attraction’ is from the famous Dutch nurseryman and designer Piet Oudolf, and has intense pink flowers on black stems.  New from England is ‘Elton Knight’ with large purple flowers and strong bushy habit.

One of the first of the new flower colors was introduced from the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  It has dark orange flowers as its name Orange Meadowbrite (sometimes seen as ‘Art’s Pride’) indicates.  ‘Mango Meadowbrite’, with orange-mustard color flowers, was then released by the same breeder, Dr. Jim Alt.  The third introduction from this program was ‘Pixie Meadowbrite’ with flat, pinkish flowers that rebloom on dwarf plants.
‘Paranoia’ has light yellow petals that droop down from a dark central cone.  Being sterile, they don’t produce seeds for birds or to seed around the garden.    It was introduced by North Carolina nurseryman Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery, although the seeds originally came from crosses by Richard Saul of Itsaul Plants in Georgia.

This latter nurseryman is responsible for many of the new colors of coneflowers, and some of the most popular, often seen as the Big Sky series.  Sundown (‘Evan Saul’) is bright orange with many flowers, Sunrise is only about two feet tall with buttery yellow flowers, Sunset has bright orange flowers with a lavender cast as they age, ‘Twilight’ is rose with a red cone, Harvest Moon (‘Matthew Saul’) has peach-orange flowers and an orange central cone, and Summer Sky (‘Katie Saul’) is one of the newer introductions with dark stems topped with peach flowers cherry red towards the center.

If these aren’t enough, consider those such as ‘Prairie Frost’ and ‘Sparkler’ with variegated leaves and purple flowers.

Look at your local complete garden center or perennial nursery for some of these new introductions, or shop online or through mail order catalogs.  Some can be grown from seeds, but as many are patented hybrid cultivars you’ll need to buy them as plants.  Consider planting some of these in prime garden locations where they can be most enjoyed.  They are striking in masses, especially as a mix of various colors.  They combine well with upright ornamental grasses such as switchgrass and feather reed grass, with the “other” coneflowers or Black-eyed Susans, with Russian sage, and with many other perennials and shrubs.

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles uvmext logo