Pale Purple Coneflower is an erect perennial (not native to Minnesota) growing 2 to 5 feet high on one or more green to purplish hairy stems that have little branching.
Leaves are alternate, simple, rough on both sides, hair on the edges and are 5 to 20 times as long as wide. Most leaves are basal, forming a clump in Spring, and the upper stem leaves are smaller.
The floral array is a solitary flower head on a long hairy stalk.
The flowers have a reddish-brown domed disc of bisexual fertile disc florets that are rough and prickly, and whose corollas are usually pink to purple colored with lips that are incurved; the domed disc is up to 1-1/4 inches wide. The five stamens tightly surround the single style of each floret. This is surrounded by 12 to 20 pale purple to pink (sometimes whitish) drooping petal-like ray florets that are 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches long and only 3 to 4 mm wide with sparse hair on the underside. These are the narrowest rays of the Echinaceas. The ray florets are neuter as to sex and have light pink to reddish rays. The outside head of the flower has a series of green phyllaries (bracts) that are very hairy, narrow with pointed tips, and which spread outward when the head is in flower. Pollen is usually white, sometimes a very light yellow.
Seed: The disc florets mature to small tan squarish cypselae, 2 - 5.5 mm long, pointed at one end, with a smooth face. These remain in the seed head for weeks. Seeds need 90 days of cold stratification to germinate. Best to plant in the fall and let Winter do the work.
Habitat: Pale Purple Coneflower grows from brownish-black taproot that will penetrate the soil several meters. Pale Purple Coneflower grows best in dry and mesic prairie types of well drained soil, in full sun.
Names: The genus name, Echinacea, is from the Greek word echinos, a hedgehog, and alludes to the prickly central disc of these flowers. The species name, pallida, means "pale" as the color of the ray flowers is lighter than other coneflowers of this genus. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Nutt.’ is for Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) English botanist who lived and worked in America from 1808 to 1841. On his many expeditions he collected many species that had been originally collected by Louis and Clark but lost by them on their return journey to St. Louis. The double listing of the name is due his first description being inadequate, but subsequently being corrected by him also.
Comparisons: Pale Purple Coneflower can be contrasted to the Eastern Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, where the rays are over 1/4 inch wide (6 to 10mm), the central disc is much larger with a flattened dome, there is much less hair and the leaves are broader and have teeth. The Narrow-leaved Coneflower, E. angustifolia, has narrow leaves also, but shorter; the hair on the stems and flower stalks is spreading and stiff, the ray florets are 5 to 8 mm wide and much shorter.
Above: The floral array is a single head on a leafless green to purplish stalk. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: 1st photo - The domed central disc is prickly and composed of small fertile florets that produce seed at maturity. The narrow drooping rays of the non-fertile ray florets are characteristic. 2nd photo - Note the hairy stem and phyllaries, which are in several series, pointed tips and a whitish midrib.
Below: 1st photo - Lower leaves are longer with long stalks, toothless margins. 2nd photo - An upper leaf has a shorter stalk and no teeth - characteristic of the species.
Below: 1st photo - In Spring a large clump of long-stalked basal leaves form from the root. 2nd photo - The main stems can be densely hairy and the leaf edges have hair. 3rd photo - The flower stalk has fine whitish hair when young becoming denser with age.
Below: Note the white pollen on some of the anthers.
Below: The flowers are on very tall stems with the leaves all at the base of the plants.
Notes: Pale Purple Coneflower is not considered native to Minnesota, although it is native to most of the eastern half of the United States. It is found in Iowa and Wisconsin where it is considered "threatened." It was listed on the Garden's 1986 Census but not on the earlier 1951 census of Martha Crone. Cary George planted reported planting it in 1995. In Martha Crone's time she listed as present the Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower, (or Blacksamson Echinacea) which was classified then as Brauneria angustifolia and is now classified Echinacea angustifolia. That plant is native to the western counties of Minnesota and has a similar central disc but much wider and shorter rays that are not drooping. That species is not presently in the Garden.
Medicinal uses: The coneflowers of the genus Echinacea have a medicinal history of using the dried root of the plant to make a decoction in boiling water or a tincture in alcohol, both to treat impurities in the blood and a variety of infections. Native Americans used it to treat snakebite. When effective use of the plant in North America was reported to Europe, a number of remedies were made in Europe from the North American Plants. Today it is still a big business as Echinacea can be found in herbal supplements, non-patent medicines, herbal teas to treat colds, etc., all marketed has preventatives, not cures. While E. angustifolia is the most frequently references species, all of the nine species native to North America are considered.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"