Of all the native plants that have gone from America’s prairies to the world’s gardens, few have a history to rival that of the purple coneflower.
For many years gardeners had two choices: Pinky-purple, and Not-quite-white. Then came 2002, when breeder Jim Ault of Chicago introduced the first orange and yellow hybrids. That was the genus’s Big Bang, and like the universe, it’s still expanding.
Now, you can have your “purple” coneflowers in myriad hues, solids and bicolors, from white to fiery orange. You can choose single flat daisies, reflexed shuttlecocks or poofy poodle cuts. Plant sizes go from 18” to 4’. Some flowers are nearly 5” across, and many are fragrant!
Once called Rudbeckia purpurea, the genus was renamed decades ago for its spiky center cone, which vaguely resembles the Australian echidna, a.k.a. the spiny anteater. Echidna was a Greek mythological creature, half woman, half snake. The spiny anteater got that moniker because, as one of just two egg-laying mammals, it has characteristics of both mammals and reptiles. Aren’t you glad you asked?