Purple Coneflower

Many different species of butterflies, including monarchs, will feed on the nectar produced by purple coneflowers. Photo credit: YREA, CC-0

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a perennial wildflower native to most of the eastern 2/3 of the U.S. In the wild it is found in open prairies and meadows. It is also commonly planted in prairie restoration sites or similar settings and has become a popular ornamental flower that can be found throughout the horticulture industry. In fact, because so many of our natural prairies and barrens have been turned into developed areas or farmland, this native wildflower may be more common now in pollinator plantings and garden settings than it is in the wild.

As the name suggests, purple coneflowers have purple flowers. There are several other closely related species of coneflower that are also purple, but purple coneflowers are by far the most common in the horticulture industry. They bloom in the summer, in Kentucky that typically translates to late June through July. The “petals” are actually infertile ray flowers designed to attract pollinators. The center is composed of lots of fertile disc flowers. These are the flowers that produce the nectar and pollen, then eventually the seeds. Just as a side note, the central cone of disc flowers is what the cone in “coneflower” refers to and the resulting seed head is what inspired the name of the genus. Echinacea is based on the Greek word echinos which means spiny or prickly.

Honey bees, as well as many of our native bee species, will collect nectar and pollen from purple coneflowers. For backyard beekeepers, purple coneflowers are worth taking special note of because they bloom during the summer dearth when there are often fewer flowers blooming that honey bees will use. Photo credit: Nennieinszweidrei, CC-0 

Purple coneflower is highly attractive to a wide range of pollinators. A wide range of bees including honey bees, native bees, and leafcutter bees collect nectar and pollen from purple coneflowers. Many different species of butterflies including monarchs, tiger swallowtails, skippers, American ladies, red admirals, and fritillaries will also feed on the nectar. In addition, purple coneflower is a host plant for the caterpillars of the silvery checkerspot butterfly which feed on the plant’s foliage.

Because of how easy they are to find and the time of the year in which they bloom, purple coneflowers are a good option to consider for those wanting to plant for bees and butterflies. They also have the added benefit of providing natural forage for some of our songbirds. After the flowers go to seed, goldfinches will often move in and will devour the seeds.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

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