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What are Coneflowers?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Coneflowers are flowering plants in the Ratibida, Echinacea, or Rudbeckia genus. They are named for the distinctive spiky cones in the middle of each blossom. These plants are native to North America, where they have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and they are also lovely ornamentals for the garden. Some good companion plants for coneflowers include blue flax, yarrow, Russian sage, verbena, lavender, and black-eyed Susans.

In nature, these hardy perennials have purple, yellow, brown, or sometimes black blossoms on long stems, and they superficially resemble daisies, although the petals will start to curl back from the middle of the flower as the flower ages, rather than remaining arrayed around the center as with daisies. Gardeners have produced white, pink, orange, and a variety of other colors, and they have selectively bred more bushy plants, making coneflowers less leggy and more compact. Garden stores which stock coneflowers usually offer a range of colors to choose from, with purple coneflowers in particular being very popular.

Coneflowers can cope with limited water and poor soil conditions, although they prefer fertile soil. Their tolerance and hardiness makes them great choices for a low-water garden. These flowers grow in full sun to partial shade, preferring well-drained soil with lots of air circulation around their stems to prevent rot. Mulching coneflowers is not advised, as it can cause the roots to rot. In the right conditions, coneflowers will bloom all the way through the summer, especially if they are regularly deadheaded and trimmed.

USDA zones three through nine are usually suitable for growing coneflowers, although specific cultivars may have slightly different ranges. Every four years or so, coneflowers usually need to be divided. Dividing gives the plants more room to grow, and allows gardeners to expand their coneflower plots, if desired. Dividing should be done in the fall, when the plants have gone dormant. These plants tend to look best in clusters, providing a bright patch of color in the summer and lush green foliage for much of the rest of the year, although coneflowers can also be used as border plantings.

A patch of coneflowers in the garden doesn't just appeal to humans. Birds and butterflies are also drawn to the colorful blooms, and the seeds are a useful source of nutrition to many wild birds. Gardeners who want to encourage bird and butterfly visitors would be well-advised to plant coneflowers. A bird bath or pool near a patch of coneflowers can also attract birds.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By accordion — On Jul 20, 2011

@mitchell14- The butterfly bush is the common name for that plant, we had some where I used to live too. We didn't have them right next to our coneflowers, but I can see that would look really nice.

The thing I liked about these plants is that they needed almost no care at all- every year we just let the coneflower seeds drop from the old plants, and then they would blossom again into new plants.

By mitchell14 — On Jul 19, 2011

Coneflower plants are great if you want to attract birds, bees, and butterflies to your yard. In my old house as a kid, we had a bunch of purple coneflower plants next to a plant we called a butterfly bush. To this day I'm not sure if that is what the plant is really called, but I know that part of our garden was always full of beautiful flying creatures during the spring and summer months.

By LisaLou — On Jul 19, 2011

I have a large yard with many open spaces where I like to plant tall perennial flowers. One of my all time favorites is coneflowers.

They are hardy flowers that I know will bloom year after year. I have planted many colors of them and enjoy them as cut flowers in an indoor bouquet as much as I enjoy their blooms outdoors.

They look great mixed in with other flowers, but I especially like a big bunch of coneflowers displayed by themselves. A combination of purple, orange and pink coneflowers in a long stemmed vase is a stunning look that really brightens up my dining room table.

By golf07 — On Jul 18, 2011

I have always had good luck growing coneflowers in my area. They seem to do well in our hot summers, and the only water they get is when it rains.

Since I like low maintenance plants and needed some tall plants for a new area in my garden, I ordered a green envy coneflower from a gardening catalog.

These beautiful flowers have jade green blossoms with light pink veins in the leaves, and a dark green cone. They are just stunning! The pink accent really sets off the green colors and I have been very happy with them.

By Mykol — On Jul 18, 2011

There are many reasons I love coneflowers and have some of them planted in my yard. I have some big rocks in my yard and use coneflowers as accents along side these rocks.

There are many different coneflower varieties, but my favorite color is still the purple ones. I love these flowers because they have big, beautiful blooms and come back every year. I know they will bloom every summer and add the perfect pop of color for that section of my yard.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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