Eastern Purple Coneflower (Purpurea)

The Eastern Purple Coneflower (Purpurea) is generally described as a perennial forb/herb. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The Eastern Purple Coneflower (Purpurea) has green foliage and inconspicuous purple flowers, with a moderate amount of conspicuous black fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Eastern Purple Coneflower (Purpurea) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Eastern Purple Coneflower (Purpurea) will reach up to 1.2 foot high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Eastern Purple Coneflower (Purpurea) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -33°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) was and still is a widely used medicinal plant of the Plains Indians. It was used as a painkiller and for a variety of ailments, including toothache, coughs, colds, sore throats, and snake bite (Kindscher 1992). The Choctaw use purple coneflower as a cough medicine and gastro-intestinal aid (Moerman 1986). The Delaware used an infusion of coneflower root for gonorrhea and found it to be highly effective.

The purple coneflower was the only native prairie plant popularized as a medicine by folk practitioners and doctors. It was used extensively as a folk remedy (Kindscher 1992). Purple coneflower root was used by early settlers as an aid in nearly every kind of sickness. If a cow or a horse did not eat well, people administered Echinacea in its feed.

Echinacea is widely used as an herbal remedy today. A purple coneflower product containing the juice of the fresh aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea was found to make mouse cells 50-80 percent resistant to influenza, herpes, and vesicular somatitis viruses. This product was available in Germany in 1978 (Wacker and Hilbig 1978). Perhaps the most important finding so far is the discovery of immuno-stimulatory properties in Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia (Wagner and Proksch 1985, Wagner et al. 1985). Stimulation of the immune system appears to be strongly influenced by dose level. Recent pharmacological studies indicate that a 10-mg/kg daily dose of the polysaccharide over a ten-day period is effective as an immuno-stimulant. Increases in the daily dosage beyond this level, however, resulted in “markedly decreased pharmacological activity” (Wagner and Proksch 1985, Wagner et al. 1985). Other research has shown that the purple coneflower produces an anti-inflammatory effect and has therapeutic value in urology, gynecology, internal medicine, and dermatology (Wagner and Proksch 1985).

Ornamental: The purple coneflower is often grown simply for its ornamental value, especially for its showy flowers. The best possibility for obtaining a new cultivar is in the hybrids between Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia var. angustifolia, whose progeny are compact, rounded, and bushy plants about two feet in diameter (McGregor 1968).

General Characteristics

General: Sunflower Family (Asteraceae). Echinacea purpurea is a perennial herb 1.5-6 dm (0.5-2 ft) tall, with a woody rhizome or tough caudex. The plant has one to several rough-hairy stems, mostly unbranched. Basal and lower cauline leaf blades are ovate to ovate-lanceolate with serrate edges, up to 2 dm long and 1.5 dm wide, and slightly heart-shaped at the base. Cauline leaves are similar but become smaller as they extend up the stem. The flowers are in heads like sunflowers with the disk up to 3.5 cm across. The drooping ray florets have ligules 3-8 cm long, and are reddish-purple, lavender, or rarely pink. The disk florets are 4.5-5.5 mm long, and are situated among stiff bracts. Flowers bloom from June to August. Pollen grains are yellow. Fruits are small, dark, 4-angled achenes.

Required Growing Conditions

The purple coneflower grows in rocky prairie sites in open, wooded regions. Echinacea purpurea extends eastward through the Great Plains bioregion from northeast Texas, Missouri, and Michigan. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Cultivation and Care

Native Echinacea species are dwindling in the wild from loss of habitat and over-harvesting. E. purpurea is not as threatened as E. angustifolia. In the wild, E. purpurea grows sporadically along waterways, with a few scattered individuals. Plant densities are too low for efficient harvest for commercial purposes. E. purpurea is the most widely adaptable species for cultivation. It is cold and heat hardy, easy to grow, and boasts high yields. Bioactive constituents of E. purpurea compare favorably with E. angustifolia, although there are proportional differences. E. angustifolia has more of the alkylamides, while E. purpurea has more of the equally immune enhancing caffeic acid derivatives. They are both effective medicines. A combination of both probably affords the most broad-spectrum immune-enhancing effect. Historically, E. purpurea was rarely utilized by pharmaceutical companies.

It takes three to four years for roots to reach harvestable size (Foster 1991). Yields for cultivated, dried roots of three-year-old Echinacea purpurea grown at Trout Lake, Washington, were 131 kg/ha (1,200 lbs/acre) (Foster 1991). According to Richo Cech (1995), a mature two-year old E. purpurea plant yields 2.25 pounds of fresh flowering aerial portions and 0.5 pounds of fresh root per plant.

Propagation from Cuttings Purple coneflower can be propagated by division of the crowns. This technique results in stronger plants initially and eliminates the tedious nurturing and tending of the slow-growing seedlings (Kindscher 1992). Harvest roots when plants are dormant, when leaves begin to turn brown. Wash roots and remove most for use. Then carefully divide the crown by hand to make one to five “plantlets.” Replant the divisions as soon as possible. It is important that they don’t dry out, so if replanting is delayed a couple of hours, dip the plants briefly in water and keep them in a sealed plastic bag in a cool, shady place until you are ready to replant them. When replanting, ensure that the remaining fine roots are well spread out in the planting hole and the soil is pressed firmly around the plant. These plantlets can be grown in flats in the greenhouse during the winter to re-establish their root systems, then replanted in the field the following spring for another round of production.

Seed Propagation Echinacea purpurea seed is easy to germinate. The following information is provided by Richo Cech (1995). The seed can be spring-planted without cold, or cold stratification, to germinate. Propagation is easily done in flats, which are sown with approximately ¼ ounce of seed per flat, evenly sprinkled on the surface and covered with about ¼ inch of potting soil. The flats are left outdoors through the winter and watered if necessary. A light screen over the flats will diminish the severity of heavy rain and snow, and will also keep out cats. Spring germination can be greatly enhanced by bringing the flat of cold-conditioned seed into the greenhouse, whereupon rapid germination may be expected. Once the second set of true leaves appears, the seedlings are put into pots or are spaced at approximately two inch centers in another deep flat. Seedlings must be carefully weeded and watered. In late spring or early summer, the hardy seedlings, now with a four-to-six inch root system, may be transplanted into the field or garden one or two feet apart. Regular spacing with one foot between the plants and two feet between the rows will result in approximately 21, 800 plants per acre. A generous two-foot spacing with three feet between the rows will result in approximately 7,500 plants per acre. Timely watering during dry periods greatly increases the size of this plant. A sparing side dressing of organic compost, usually in the mid-spring, will assist this sometimes slow-growing herbaceous perennial in outranking competitive weeds.

An ounce of well-cleaned E. purpurea seed contains approximately 6,000 seeds. A pound c

General Upkeep and Control

Herbivores such as insects and deer, are not a problem with Echinacea. Gophers and moles can be a problem as they eat the roots. Goldfinches love the Echinacea seed crop and can clear out all the seed in a few days.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Forb/herb
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 1.2
Vegetative Spread Moderate
Flower Color Purple
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -33
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Slow
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6.5–7.2 pH
Precipitation Range 14–14 inches/yr
Planting Density 0–0 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Minimum Frost-Free Days 90 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant Yes
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA