ABOUT THE PLANT
Description: Echinacea has tall (up to 3 feet), strong, fibrous stems that bear large single flowers with pink or purple petals that generally curve downward and a central cone that is usually purple or brown. When mature, the large cone of disk flowers becomes a seed head with sharp spines. The plants typically grow in dense clusters. The flowers are easy-to-grow, hardy, resistant to heat and drought, have a long-flowering season, and attract beneficial pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and birds.
Origin: Native to eastern and central North America
Usage: The petals, roots, and leaves are edible, commonly dried, and steeped into teas. They can also be used for tinctures and salves to apply topically to wounds and skin problems.
Interesting facts: The only major pest with which the purple coneflower has difficulty is the Japanese beetle.
HOW TO GROW
General requirements: The Purple Coneflower thrives best in nutrient-rich, well-draining soils, and a sunny location. The seeds require stratification, which is a cold, moist period. This can be accomplished artificially by wrapping the seeds in a wet paper towel, placing them in a sealable plastic bag, and putting them into the refrigerator for four weeks. Alternatively, plant in late fall-early winter for natural stratification to get germination the following spring. Although echinacea is drought-tolerant, plants produce better blooms when the soil is consistently moist.
In the garden: Sow seeds late fall-early winter for germination the following spring. Scatter seeds and cover lightly with ¼ inch dusting of soil and pat down. Gently mist to keep it moist.
In containers: Fill a container with moist potting soil. Scatter seeds on the surface and lightly cover them with more moist potting soil. Pat down. Place the container in full sunlight and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Transplanting: Sow echinacea seeds indoors in flats or pots filled with potting soil or seed starting mix 8-10 weeks before outdoor planting in spring. Cover the seeds lightly with a 1/4-inch soil mix. Keep the soil moist at 65-70 degrees F and in the dark until germination, which may take 10-20 days. Once sprouts appear, provide bright light. Transplant into the garden, spacing 12-15 inches apart.
Roots: Using a garden fork or shovel, dig up the plants to remove the entire root system. Clean the roots and cut them into smaller pieces. Let them dry completely, which can take a few weeks, and then store them in an airtight container.
Leaves: Cut the stem just above the first set of bottom leaves. Hang the plants to dry or remove the leaves and the petals from the flowers and lay them out to dry out of direct sunlight in a well-ventilated place.
Flowers: Cut the stem just below the top set of leaves. Remove the petals from the flowers and lay them out to dry out of direct sunlight in a well-ventilated place.
Seeds: Wait until the seed head turns dark brown/black and dries out. Cut below the seed head, place heads in a jar or hard plastic container, and shake vigorously. Remove the empty heads, and let the harvested seeds dry out for another week. Store in plastic bags or jars in a cool dark place.
Common name: purple coneflower, snakeroot, comb flower, hedgehog
Latin name: Echinacea purpurea
Growth habit: clumping upright herb with occasional branching
Life cycle: perennial
USDA Zones: 4-9
Seeds per ounce: about 9,000