Each year, the National Gardening Bureau selects a perennial to be named as the “Perennial of the Year.” For 2014 they have chosen Echinacea to be the featured perennial.
The genus Echinacea (The Purple Coneflowers) is a family of North American wildflowers that have long been appreciated for their beautiful flowers, value to pollinators and medicinal properties. They are native to the eastern half of the U.S. and are most commonly found growing in prairie habitats.
There has been a tremendous amount of breeding work over the past few years developing double flowered cultivars and expanding the color palette into shades of orange and red.
While beautiful in the greenhouse, I’ve found most all of these new hybrids struggle in challenging climates, drier growing conditions and less than ideal garden soils.
Here in the Intermountain West and the Great Plains (as well as other regions with less than ideal growing conditions), I strongly recommend seed grown or division propagated Coneflowers. These plants retain the vigor and resilience that has been lost in those fancy tissue culture propagated hybrids.
Here are my recommendations for the best performing species and cultivars to provide plentiful flowers and ample nectar (for butterflies, bees, bumblebees and hummingbirds).
This seed grown strain of the very rare Tennessee native wild flower (once listed as endangered) was developed in Europe. Once established, ‘Rocky Top’ is relatively xeric and long lived and provides a bouquet of sun bonnet shaped flowers in mid-summer.
The paradox of this uncommon Purple Coneflower species is that its flowers are bright yellow. The huge flowers have long yellow petals that sweep back from the central cone. E. paradoxa has been one of the parent plants used to create the orange flowered hybrids, but is an outstanding wildflower in its unhybridized form.
This is a great new compact growing cultivar developed for its smaller but more numerous flowers. A strong performer, less than two feet tall, is ideal for the smaller garden and blooms heavily through much of the summer months.
Other lesser known varieties from European breeders that I prefer in my gardens and recommend to others include:
Text and photos by David Salman