These sun-loving perennials form large clumps of long-stemmed, very showy flowers with drooping to horizontal rays and a beehive- like central cone. Bloom over a long period in summer and may continue sporadically until frost; deadheading prolongs bloom. May start blooming in spring in mild-winter climates. If left in place, the bristly seed heads hang on into winter; finches like the seeds. To make coneflowers last, be sure to plant where drainage is good. Plants should be well established going into winter, preferably planted in spring.
Use on outskirts of garden or in wide borders with other robust perennials such as Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum), sunflower (Helianthus), Michaelmas daisy (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii). Seldom bothered by deer.
E. angustifolia. NARROW-LEAF CONEFLOWER. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to central U.S. Prairie wildflower to 34 ft. high, 2 ft. wide. Flowers to 2 in. wide, with pink-to-rosy purple rays drooping from a purple-brown cone. Narrow, bristly leaves to 6 in. long.
E. hybrids. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Complex crosses have produced hybrid coneflowers that are popular for their vigor and extended color range. Plants in the Big Sky series grow 23 ft. high and 2 ft. wide; choices include butter-yellow 'Sunrise', bright orange 'Sunset', and reddish orange 'Sundown' ('Evan Saul'). 'Cheyenne Spirit' first-year flowering, heavily blooming, drought tolerant, grows to 2 ft. 'Adam Saul' ('Crazy Pink') is one of the heaviest bloomers, topping out at only 2 ft. tall and wide. 'Flame Thrower' grows 212-3 ft. tall and has bright yellow petals flushed with orange near the cone. Heavy bloomer. 'Green Envy', 23 ft. high, has fragrant, lime-green blooms that pick up magenta-purple near the cone as they age. The green cone also fades to purple. 'Hot Papaya' is doubled with a pompon rather than a cone and blooms in mango-red. 'Mango Meadowbrite' grows 23 ft. high and wide; orange-yellow petals surround orange-brown centers. 'Orange Meadowbrite' ('Art's Pride') grows about the same size, bears reddish orange flowers. 'Pixie Meadowbrite' grows only about 112 ft. tall and a bit wider, with pink, nondrooping petals surrounding a yellow-brown center. The Sombrero series grows to 2 ft. and has bold colors on early-blooming, heat-tolerant plants. 'Tomato Soup' has bright red flowers up to 6 in. wide on 2-ft.-high plants. 'Tiki Torch' has bright orange-to-rose blooms on a 2- to 212-ft.-tall plant.
E. paradoxa. YELLOW CONEFLOWER. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to the Ozarks. To 23 ft. high, 2 ft. wide. Drooping, yellow to orange-yellow rays surround a brown cone; flowers are about 2 in. wide. Smooth, lance-shaped leaves to 8 in. long. Hybrids involving this and E. purpurea have produced many new colors.
E. purpurea. PURPLE CONEFLOWER. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to central and eastern North America. Coarse, stiff plant to 45 ft. tall, about 2 ft. wide, with bristly, oblong leaves 38 in. long. Blossoms reach 23 in. wide, with drooping rosy purple rays and an orange-brown central cone.
Many fine selections are available. 'Coconut Lime' has a double flower, with a single row of large white petals surrounding a tuft of smaller light green petals around the cone. Grows to 23 ft. high. 'Doubledecker' ('Doppelganger'), another 2-footer, has something extra: a second set of pink petals emerging from the top of the cone. 'Fragrant Angel' grows 2212 ft. high with sweetly scented white flowers. 'Kim's Knee High' grows 1122 ft. high and has clear pink flowers. 'Magnus' grows 34 ft. tall and has deep purplish pink, orange-centered flowers to 7 in. wide. 'Pink Poodle' produces fully double pink flowers that resemble zinnias. 'Rubinstern' ('Ruby Star') grows 23 ft. high with carmine-red, nondrooping rays. Both 'White Lustre' (212 ft. high) and 'White Swan' (1122 ft. high) have white rays and orange-yellow cones. 'PowWow Wildberry' grows 112 -2 ft. tall with pink-purple flowers that bloom heavily the first year.
E. tennesseensis. TENNESSEE CONEFLOWER. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From the southeastern U.S. Similar to E. purpurea, but rays are horizontal rather than drooping, and cone is greenish pink. Stems to 1 ft. tall. Forms a low, casual mound. This beautiful coneflower is rare and endangered in the wild but is being propagated under permit. Available from a few wildflower nurseries.
Coneflowers generally do not need staking. They perform well in summer heat and tolerate drought. Clumps spread slowly, become crowded after 3 or 4 years. Fleshy rootstocks can be difficult to separate; divide carefully, making sure that each division has a shoot and roots. Plantings can also be increased by taking root cuttings, seeding, or transplanting self-sown seedlings.