What are Purple Coneflowers?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Purple coneflowers are more popularly known as echinacea. This perennial plant is native to North America, where it is most frequently found in the central United States. Used primarily as a border garden plant, the meadow flower is also found growing wild in tall, dry grasses and prairie areas.

Purple coneflowers grow in large, grassy areas in the central United States.
Purple coneflowers grow in large, grassy areas in the central United States.

As members of the sunflower family, purple coneflowers have dark centers and soft, daisy-like petals. The flower's petals are fairly straight but droop down, making the center protrude in a cone shape. The cone part of the plant, with its dark brown, spiky center, is said to resemble a hedgehog. The plant's scientific name, Echinacea purpurea, comes from the Greek word for hedgehog.

Nine separate species of purple coneflowers exist. Harvesting these flowers in the wild is not recommended. Some varieties of purple coneflower are considered threatened. Cutting these species down can cause a greater loss. Purple coneflowers exhibit herbaceous, hairy leaves and erect stems.

Echinacea are strong, drought-resistant plants. Their flowers are long-lasting, and though they are called purple coneflowers, the petals themselves may range from purple, to pink, to sometimes white. Other colors, such as yellow, are also possible. Depending on the exact species of purple coneflower, the plants may grow anywhere from 24 inches (60 cm) to 6 feet (1.8 m) in height. Most bloom in the early to late summer months.

Many people prefer to use these plants as cut flowers. They can be arranged in attractive displays for the home, gift giving, or event decorations. Other people use the plants for their purported medicinal benefits. Some people believe the plants can help ward off or shorten colds and other illnesses, while studies have shown that there may be a link between purple coneflowers and the stopping of tumor growth.

When planting purple coneflowers, seeds should be spaced at least 24 inches (60 cm) apart from one another. This will ensure that the flowers have sufficient growing room. Full sunlight and well-drained soil are generally necessary for optimal plant health, though some species can live well in partial shade. Lightly applied organic fertilizer can help provide the plants with sustenance as they grow and mature.

These plants have been proven to effect the immune system. Taking them as a supplement can increase white blood cell counts. Doctors recommend that patients cease taking echinacea remedies after ten days of treatment, and women and children are typically advised to refrain from taking the herbal supplement.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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