Species Coneflowers Are Awesome

Years ago when I started gardening like a mad man I got into coneflowers big time. After getting Echinacea purpurea, the standard, I got its knockoffs — red ones, orange ones, umber ones, white ones. Yikes. They proved to be much weaker than the straight species, succumbing to foliage diseases and never flowering that much. The last holdout is probably one of the earlier cultivars, ‘White Swan,’ which isn’t weakened as much as more recent introductions. This has been my experience and others I know, though I hope yours has been different. I will say, I’m completely turned off from those double decker, aster-yellow-disease-looking cultivars out now.

So what’s a mad man to do when cultivars don’t work out? Get smart. There are a wealth of species plants out there that offer good diversity and superb vigor.


Above is one of my dry trouble spots, made less troublesome by going with species coneflowers. That’s the yellow E. paradoxa to the left, the hairy and thin-leaved E. pallida up front, and in back is E. simulata. I know these all aren’t native to eastern Nebraska, but I’m comfortable cheating on coneflowers. Wouldn’t you be?


This is E. angustifolia, or so it’s labeled. It looks almost identical to E. pallida, having hairy thin leaves, but the ray flowers are a bit shorter. It’s slower to establish than E. pallida for me, but looking good this year.


I keep thinking this is a self-sown E. atrorubens, given its very pointy head, but the ray flowers are too long. I know I have an atrorubens somewhere but have lost it in the masses of blooms. What do you think — just a regular old E. purpurea?

That’s not all of them, right? Of course not! There are WAY more:


Here’s the very fuzzy-leaved Rudbeckia hirta.


And Rudbeckia maxima, giant coneflower with large blue leaves.


Ratibida pinnata, grey-headed coneflower, a nice self sower for larger areas.


Ratibida columnifara, mexican hat, so far is a well-behaved shorter variety.

I better stop before I start sounding like a crazy local car ad guy over Memorial Day. What other species coneflowers do you use? Do you find them more hardy than cultivars?

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  1. DeAnna says

    Thank you for the article, I love all of the different kinds of coneflower you have!
    I have Pallida too! It’s otherwise known as Pale Coneflower, as you know, & is native to Illinois prairies. That is one of the stars to my garden, & no one else around me has it!
    It’s true about the knock offs, & many of those are not visited by bees or butterflies. I planted lots of Verbena, a knock off, & it has been completely ignored! I bought a Violet, not realizing the Fritillary butterfly needs a native Violet to lay its eggs on, so next year I’ll be growing them from seed. It’s to late in the year now to start seeds, I’m in Chicago, zone 5. I’ve learned for next year!
    Native is the way to go!

  2. Carole says

    Mexican Hat has been well-behaved in my garden also. It was advertised as an annual but my plants have just bloomed for their 4th season here in northwest Florida. They haven’t reseeded.
    Have you tried clasping coneflower. It is an annual worth starting each fall. The pollinators love it.

  3. Barbara says

    So true, for me too – never had much luck with the cultivars in my garden either except with disease galore! Give me the old tried and true coneflowers any day! I think, in my own experience, that even the birds and pollinators appreciate the difference. I always see hoardes of birds and pollinators on my species plants but only a “trickle” on the cultivars to the point where I wonder if the seeds and nectar “taste” different. Thanks for sharing this great article!


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