Eastern Purple Coneflower is an introduced (native in some areas of North America - see below) erect perennial forb growing 2 to 5 feet in height on stems that usually do not branch and are green to brownish-green with some purple streaks and a few hair.
The leaves have a few teeth and hairy on both sides, lanceolate in shape, with pointed tips. The longer lower basal leaves being 5x as long as wide and usually with entire margins and in Spring a clump of basal leaves is put up by the roots. Upper stem leaves are shorter and can have teeth. Stalks are very long on basal leaves, shorter on upper stem leaves and all are winged.
The floral array is an individual flower head on a tall smooth stalk atop the stem.
The flower is a composite head, 2 1/2 to 4 inches wide with reddish purple spreading to slightly drooping rays, each 1/4 to 1/3 inch (6 to 10 mm) wide, and a very bristly central disc. The ray florets number 10 to 20 with sparse hair on the underside of the ray and are neuter as to sex. The rays vary on different plants from pink to purple. The disc florets are bisexual and fertile and have tubular corollas with lobes that vary from greenish to pink to purple. These are very prickly. The disc florets have 5 stamens which tightly surround the single style, which are exserted from the floret when it opens. The central disc, while hemispheric, is flattened on top prior to the inner florets opening and seed formation beginning, then a dome shape forms. The outer head of the flower has a series of green floral bracts (phyllaries) that are narrow and pointed, hairy, and recurve from the head when it is in flower.
Seed: Fertilized disc florets produce an off-white to grayish dry cypsela, 3.5 to 5 mm long, pyramidal in shape, bluntly concave on the wide end, usually smooth surfaced. (photo below) Seeds germinate without needing cold stratification but if stored they should be held in cold dry storage.
Habitat: Purple Coneflower grows from a fibrous root system, with a woody caudex and does best in loamy soils, full sun to partial shade, and mesic to moist conditions. This is the only species of Echinacea in North America that has fibrous roots. The many cultivars of Purple Coneflower available in the nursery trade are derived from this species and marketed with the scientific name but will differ from native forms in color, shape, height and growing requirements. One must carefully search if you want a true native.
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, purpurea, is also Greek, meaning "purple". The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify was ('L.') - which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. He originally named the plant Rudbeckia purpurea in 1753. His work was amended by ‘Moench’- which is for Conrad Moench, (1744-1805), German botanist, Professor of Botany at Marburg, author of Methodus Plantas hirti botanici et agri Marburgensis, and who named the genus Echinacea. He amended the plant name to the current name in 1794. Another scientific name - Brauneria purpurea - came into use in 1894 by Nathenial Lord Britton but has not been accepted.
Comparison: The Pale Purple Coneflower, E. pallida, has narrower very drooping rays 3 to 4 mm wide and very long and with long thin leaves, and flower stalks with hair. 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 solitary flower atop a tall greenish-brown smooth stalk.
Below: 1st & 2nd photos - The ray florets number 10 to 20 and are not fertile. Rays are spreading to slightly reflexed. The disc florets are fertile and the disc becomes more domed as the florets open. 3rd photo - In Spring a clump of basal leaves is put up by the roots.
Below: 1st photo - Stems have scattered fine hair and purple streaks. 2nd photo - The lower leaves have wavy but usually smooth edges and a long winged stalk. 3rd photo - Upper leaves are smaller and sometimes with sharp teeth. They have a shorter winged stalk. Both have fine hair on the surface.
Below: Leaf comparison: Top - basal leaf; center - mid stem leaf; bottom - uppermost leaf.
Below: 1st photo - The flower head has a series of green floral bracts (phyllaries) that are narrow and pointed, hairy, and recurve from the head when in flower. 2nd photo - The underside of the leaves is a paler color from fine whitish hair. Vein have longer white hair.
Below: The pyramidal shaped cypselae, 3.5 to 5 mm long.
Notes: Purple Coneflower is not indigenous to the Garden but was introduced by Eloise Butler on April 29, 1915 with 6 plants sourced from Horsford's Nursery in Charlotte VT. She got 12 more from them in April 1919. Martha Crone planted them in 1945, '47, 50, '51, '56 and planted seeds in 1948 & '49. The Species was also listed on her 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time.
While native to many states to the East and South, Purple Coneflower is not native to Minnesota but was introduced and has sometimes escaped to the wild. It was also introduced into Ontario. Miss Butler and Mrs. Crone listed it under the old scientific name "Brauneria purpurea", and sometimes she recorded it as Rudbeckia purpurea. It is not listed on the 1986 Garden census but returns with the 2009 census. Only Echinacea angustifolia DC., the Narrow-leaved purple coneflower (or Blacksamson Echinacea) is native to Minnesota. That species is also introduced by Eloise Butler but is no longer extant 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.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"