Cheery Coneflowers

After a few welcome days of scattered showers, today dawned crystal clear and warm at Coppertop. On this mountain, we enjoy viewing the movement of the misty marine layer over the Strait, especially on warm days.

Perennial purple coneflowers or Echinacea purpurea thrived in our long, hot, and muggy Virginia summers, faithfully coming back stronger each year, and attracting many bees and butterflies. My kids at a young age were proud of learning to recognize and recite “echinacea” whenever we’d spot coneflowers. The name echinacea comes from a Greek word meaning hedgehog or sea urchin; this relates to the spiky look and feel of the flowers. These perennials are native to North America and were used as herbal remedies by Native Americans in the southeastern states long before the plants were sent to England in 1699 by the natural historian, Reverend John Banister, who was in Virginia to study the flora and fauna of the Americas.

I had zero expectations of growing coneflowers in Coppertop’s cooler northwest climate until I saw a healthy clump pushing up in the perennial beds.

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I decided to add some others in pots and they have done well. At the front of the house:

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And near the young birch trees:

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There are nine species of the genus Echinacea, all belonging to the daisy or Asteraceae familyThe yellow hybrid isn’t know to be as faithful at returning each year as the purple, especially in the wet northwest, but I’ll attempt to keep both alive for next year. The key will be to make sure soil drains well. This website has some good tips: http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/home-and-garden/articles/avoid-the-coneflower-blues-august-2011. I’m viewing this as an experiment; I intend to transplant these into simple plastic pots, place them in the greenhouse, and then replant outdoors in the spring. I’ll do this because I like to keep my outdoor pots filled with seasonal color — including upcoming pansies and tulips — not because the echinaceas require transplanting.

Depending on how the plants do, next year I hope to expand with varieties of echinacea in the perennial beds, adding some of the newer colors and gorgeous double varieties. Echinaceas can now be found in purples, pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, and whites! Southern Belle is a vibrant, magenta choice, but kind of risky for this northern girl. 😉  Online, I see that a semi-local nursery called Skagit Gardens carries them, so that’s promising. And this site has me dreaming big, colorful dreams: http://www.coneflower.com.

Echinacea as an herbal supplement is a huge seller, purported to reduce the length of a common cold along with other claims, but research is inconclusive at best.

Rudbeckia are also commonly called coneflowers, belonging to the Asteraceae (daisy) family as well, yet mostly known as black-eyed susans.

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At Coppertop this large clump of cheerful, perennial daisies shown above grow near the veggie garden and are scattered in the perennial  beds. I added a couple of young plants for fall color, tagged Rudbeckia hirta and “annual”, shown below, but we’ll see if they return.

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The Rudbeckia genus of coneflowers has over 20 species all native to North America, named in honor of a Swedish anatomist,  Olaus (or Olof) Rudbeck (1660-1740), a botanist, astronomer,  and professor of medicine.  Dr. Rudbeck is recognized as the discoverer of the lymphatic system. Makes me proud of some inherited Swedish genes.

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