Crooked Run Valley
purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
eastern purple coneflower
Brauneria purpurea (L.) Britton
Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench var. arkansana Steyerm.
Rudbeckia purpurea L.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for purple coneflower is Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States; Introduced, Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: Purple coneflower is a coarse, rough-hairy, herbaceous perennial, 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
Leaves: Basal and lower cauline leaf blades are ovate to ovate-lanceolate with serrate edges, dark green in color, 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.
Flowers: 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.
Fruits/Seeds: Fruits are small, dark, 4-angled achenes; pollen grains are yellow. The dead flower stems will remain erect well into the winter, and if flower heads are not removed, the blackened cones may be visited by goldfinches or other birds that feed on the seeds.
Roots: The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous. Small dense colonies of plants may form from the rhizomes.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Purple coneflower propogates itself by reseeding and vegetative spread (i.e., rhizomes).
HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include moist to mesic black soil prairies, edges and openings in woodlands, savannas, thickets, meadows,and limestone glades.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Purple coneflower easily grows in average, dry to medium, well-drained soil and prefers full sun to part shade. Best in full sun. An adaptable plant that is tolerant of drought, heat, humidity and poor soil. Growth is best in fertile loam, but the soil can contain some gravel or clay.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period begins in mid-summer and lasts about a month, after which there is a temporary dormancy. Later, some plants may bloom again during the early fall.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Purple coneflower naturally occurs from Florida to New York/Connecticut (absent from the New England states), and extends west to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado,
as well the Ohio Valley. It is absent from the upper Mid-west and Prairie states, Rocky Mountain, far southwest and Pacific Coast states.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The flowers purple coneflower are cross-pollinated by long-tongued bees, bee flies, Halictid bees, butterflies, and skippers. Among long-tongued bees, are such visitors as honeybees, bumblebees, digger bees (Melissodes spp.), and leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.). Butterfly visitors include monarchs, fritillaries, painted ladies, swallowtails, sulfurs, and whites. The caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (silvery checkerspot) feed on the foliage, while the caterpillars of several moths feed on the flowerheads. These latter species include Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria (blackberry looper), Eupithecia miserulata (common eupithecia), Synchlora aerata (wavy-lined emerald), and Homoeosoma electella (sunflower moth). A small songbird, the eastern goldfinch, occasionally eats the seeds during the summer and early fall.
Purple coneflower was one of the most important medicinal plants used by Native Americans. It was used by many tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever,
anti-inflammatory, a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of this plant were used to dress wounds and treat infections.
Purple coneflower 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. The Choctaw use purple coneflower as a cough medicine and gastro-intestinal aid.
It has been used to soothe gastrointestinal troubles in man and horses. Early pioneers were quick to pick up on healing properties of this species, probably from contact with Native Americans as they traveled west, across the plains.
Modern medicine has also seen potential benefits associate with this plant species. Studies have shown eastern purple coneflower to be an immune system booster. It has also shown activity against bacterial and viral infections. Chemical compounds extracted from Echinacea have even shown inhibitory effects against certain forms of cancer.
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. 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.
Purple coneflower 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. Perhaps the most important finding so far is the discovery of immunostimulatory properties in Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia. 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.” Other research has shown that the purple coneflower produces an anti-inflammatory effect and has therapeutic value in urology, gynecology, internal medicine, and dermatology.
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 Echinacea angustifolia var. angustifolia, whose progeny are compact, rounded, and bushy plants about two feet in diameter.