Plant breeders have given us some spectacular wonders for our gardens over the years. We now have beebalm and phlox that are more resistant to powdery mildew. Coneflowers now come in bright bolder colors with sturdier stems. We even have different Joe-Pye-Weeds that are shorter, more compact and even some like Eupatorium altissimum ‘Prairie Jewel’ that offers season long beauty with variegated foliage.
We know that native insects prefer native plants. You can read more about perennials that resemble their native counterparts in the Annals of Botany 2022 E. Erickson et al, “Complex floral traits shape pollinator attraction to ornamental plants”. With so many new cultivars of Echinacea on the market I wanted to touch on two different species of coneflowers that you might want to consider adding to your pollinator habitat. Echinacea pallida – pale purple coneflower is a Midwest native that can be found from the Ozarks across Iowa though Illinois into Wisconsin. Growing to about three feet tall, making it a good companion with penstemon, golden alexanders, amsonia, and other medium height growing perennials. One of the outstanding features of this perennial is the long slender pale purple reflexed ray florets. There have been some reports of natural varieties of this species ranging in colors of pale pink to white. They’ve only been found in isolated prairie remnants. Bloom time typically starts mid-June and can last up to six weeks bridging the early summer flower gap.
The second coneflower that can add some color to the garden is Echinacea paradoxa – Ozark coneflower (sometimes called yellow-purple coneflower). This is the only species of Echinacea that has a true yellow flower. It can be found in most of the Midwest including Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri. Growing similar in height to the pale purple coneflower with an earlier bloom time typically starting in May. If you dare get close enough to the disk florets, you will be rewarded with a light pleasant fragrance. However, in my own experience, my nose takes a beating from the sharp spines from the disk making the fragrance less tantalizing. Ozark coneflower is a well behaved and is suitable for urban and prairie urban gardens.
Both coneflowers offer unique floral features to help shape the texture of your garden. If left on the plant, dried flowers will offer winter resources to overwintering birds and wildlife. There are a lot of options to choose from when deciding on what coneflower to add to your garden. However, remember those blooms that closely resemble their native counterparts are more attractive to pollinators. Instead of going trying a new cultivar give one or both of these species a try in your garden.