In much of the eastern part of the country, nothing says summer like swaying stands of purple coneflowers. They look beautiful in cultivated landscapes, wildflower meadows, or on the edge of a wooded area. Hardy and drought-tolerant, purple coneflowers attract butterflies and bumblebees, which buzz from flower to flower all day long.
Purple coneflowers were used across the Plains by various Native American tribes for medicinal purposes. They were considered useful in the treatment of a host of ailments, including snakebite, coughs, and sore throats. Recently, coneflower (Echinacea) extracts have been sold in several forms to fight off the common cold and boost the immune system. Whether these remedies work or not, most people feel better after admiring coneflowers in the garden.
Pretty as they are, coneflowers are quite hardy. They can handle poor soil very well. In fact, some nurseries describe them as "clay-busters". Even so, they grow best in sunny locations where the soil is well drained. Purple coneflowers can handle dry conditions once they're established, though they will need to be watered until then. Give them some room when you plant them, since they'll easily grow 3-4 feet tall and their leaves can spread out about 12-15 inches. These perennial flowers grow back readily, forming clumps.
As the summer turns to fall, the petals fall away from the coneflower, and the seed head stands alone. If you like to see birds in the winter, leave the stalks standing. Finches and other seed-loving birds will happily peck away at them all winter long.
If you like purple coneflowers, there are 8 other species, including yellow, pale, and Tennessee coneflower. Also, many interesting new hybrids have been introduced, so you'll be sure to find a coneflower to suit your gardening needs.