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2005 The Year of the Echinacea

March 8, 2005

Coneflower (Echinacea) has long been a fabulous plant for those of us in the Midwest. Long blooming, very hardy, a magnet for butterflies, good cut flowers, and fairly deer resistant are all attributes that have made it one of our favorites. In fact, the Perennial Plant Association voted the rosy purple blooming Echinacea ‘Magnus’ the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1998. But wait until you see what’s coming on the market this year! The breakthroughs in Echinacea breeding are bringing us new varieties with orange flowers, two-tiered flowers, and variegated foliage.

By crossing the native Echinacea paradoxa with its narrow drooping yellow petals and Echinacea purpurea with its wider rose purple ray petals, fantastic new cultivars have been developed. These new cultivars have orange and yellow flowers and unbelievable fragrance. Watch for the Meadowbrite and the Big Sky series of coneflowers that will be available this year in limited quantities!

The flowers in the Meadowbrite series, from the breeders at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and Chicago’s Morton Arboretum, exhibit the more narrow petals of paradoxa. Orange Meadowbrite (Echinacea ‘Art’s Pride’) is the first orange coneflower ever in cultivation. It is truly novel with brightly colored, deep orange ray petals, a dark maroon cone and intense sweet orange-spiced tea fragrance. The sister plant is Mango Meadowbrite (Echinacea ‘CBG Cone3’). Mango has luscious mango-yellow flower petals, a bright golden-orange cone, and perhaps the strongest, sweetest fragrance of any coneflower yet. Both grow to about 30-36 inches tall and spread to about 3 feet in two years.

Georgia’s Itsaul Nurseries developed the Big Sky series. These hybrids have inherited the dominant characteristics of Echinacea purpurea with their fuller flowers composed of wider and only slightly reflexed petals. Big Sky Sunrise is a light citron yellow. Its central cone starts out green and turns gold as it ages. Big Sky Sunset is a vibrant, electrifying orange with a brownish cone. Both Sunrise and Sunset have wonderfully fragrant, rose-scented flowers from mid summer on until fall. Sunrise is reported to be slightly taller at 30 to 36 inches, while Sunset is only 24 to 30 inches.

From Germany comes the wild new hybrid Doubledecker Coneflower (Echinacea ‘Doppelganger’). In German folklore the doppelganger is the shadow-walker or shadow-self, a spiritual double that accompanies each of us. What a perfect name for this coneflower! Usually during the second year after transplanting, the “shadow-walker” visits each flower and a second set of rose pink petals sprouts atop its cone like its shadow-self. The two-tiered rows of petals give a wild and crazy look like nothing you have ever seen before! Doubledecker will really show its stuff at 36 to 40 inches tall.

New from Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon comes Echinacea ‘Sparkler’. This plant is a sport of Echinacea ‘Little Giant’ and shares the same wonderful attributes of a compact dwarf habit and large 4” diameter, fragrant, reddish-purple blooms. Sparkler’s claim to fame is the bright, variegated splashes of green and cream that festoon its foliage. It decorates the garden from early spring with colorful sparkling leaves and adds loads of flower color summer through fall. This one is a winner all season long!

Watch for these and other Echinacea varieties throughout the 2005 gardening season. In all, Peck’s will offer about a dozen different coneflowers this year...all vigorous, free-blooming, deer resistant, and easy to grow. What fun to have so many choices…GO CONE CRAZY!!!