Purple Coneflower and its three cousins, Black Sampson (E. angustifolia), Pale Purple Coneflower (E. pallida) and E. atrorubens (no common name), are members of the sunflower family or Compositae. The Compositae have two kinds of flowers combined in one flower head - strap-like ray flowers around the outside of the head and disk flowers in the center of the head. The ray flowers make up what would be thought of as the petals.
Purple Coneflower is a glade species that is found as far east as Georgia. You will find it in the eastern edge of the tallgrass prairie.
Pale Echinacea prefers drier upland situations. It ranges in tallgrass prairie sites from Indiana and Wisconsin to eastern Kansas and south to north Texas.
Narrowleaf Echinacea ranges across the mixed and shortgrass prairie in addition to the western edge of the tallgrass prairie.
The fourth species of Echinacea (atrorubens) may be found in a narrow band from Topeka, Kansas to Houston, Texas. It has no common name and may be distinguished from the others by not having roughly hairy leaves, as the other three do.
The Kansas Wildflower Society, the Kansas Associated Garden Clubs and Botanica, the Wichita Gardens chose Echinacea sp. as the 1998 Kansas Wildflower of the Year. Purple Coneflower is widely available in garden stores. The Echinaceas are excellent selections for a butterfly garden. All four species are hardy perennials with a long bloom period.
These species are at risk from people digging them up for their roots, which are used in herbal medicines. In some areas the local populations of Echinacea have been eliminated by overharvesting. This plant is being raised commercially and hopefully that source will eliminate the market for plants dug from the wild.
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