Native only to three counties around Nashville in north-central Tennessee, the Tennessee purple coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) bears rosy violet petals around an orange-brown cone in midsummer. Rather short-lived, shorter and with much narrower leaves than the common purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), this species remains on the United States Federal Endangered Plant Species List. Selection 'Rocky Top' produces more flowers and is available at plant nurseries more frequently.
If you have a sunny perennial border with a pocket of slightly infertile or gravelly soil, a mass of Tennessee purple coneflowers plants would be an excellent choice to grow. Allow any seedlings to grow where they germinate, since the long, singular taproots tend to not respond well to transplanting. The plants survive for three to five years before degrading in vigor, being replaced by subsequent generations of seedlings. Keeping this species in tidy blocked areas within a formal border may prove difficult. Also, do not plant by other species of coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) as they will cross-pollinate and lead to hybridized seedlings.
The wiry stems and loose habit of the Tennessee purple coneflower make it a perfect choice for naturalistic plantings in meadows, prairie or mixed wildflower gardens. Sow seeds in moist, well-draining soils that are not rich in organic matter, as too much soil fertility leads to weak stems that topple once the flowers form. Allow the seeds to germinate naturally among grasses and wildflowers to perpetuate for years, moving throughout the entire meadow habitat.
The well-drained roadside medians and shoulders where soil fertility usually is minimal may be excellent for the Tennessee purple coneflower. Appreciating moist, well-draining soils, the plant handles dry, hot conditions well only once established. Seedlings will germinate across the landscape, failing only in soils where water collects in the lowest parts of ditches.
Wherever the Tennessee purple coneflower grows, its long stems topped with the daisy-like pink flowers may be cut and displayed in vases. Because the flowers develop seeds to perpetuate the species, do not cut flowers on wild-growing plants. The seed heads provide food for small songbirds, too. Only cut the blossoms on garden-raised coneflowers, ideally from the more vigorously growing and more abundantly flowering variety named 'Rocky Top'.