Posts Tagged Echinacea purpurea
Faithful readers of this blog may recall that last month I wrote an entry in which I tried to answer some of the questions from search engines that lead people most frequently to my blog. For example, frequent searches still find my blog while seeking information on tomato ‘Indigo Rose’ and how to tend your garden during record drought and heat waves. Lately, a few other topics have been recurring regularly, so I thought I’d directly address some of them for you today.
First, check out the top photo. We finally got some decent rain last weekend (2.5 magnificent inches), and that moisture rekindled enthusiasm among my vegetables. All but one of my squash plants surrendered to the heat and bugs several weeks ago. But one zucchini ‘Spineless Perfection’ continues to survive and produce fruit against all odds. A close examination of the stem shows clear evidence of Squash Vine Borer intrusion, but this plant has outwitted the bugs by taking advantage of the fresh mulch that Wonder Spouse and I applied to all the paths between the veggie beds. This plant flopped itself over one side of its bed and into the path, and everywhere its stem touches the mulch, it sprouted new roots. Eventually, the borers will overcome this defense, but for now, I’m still picking a few zucchinis every week. I will definitely be growing this variety of zucchini again.
When tomatoes receive a lot of moisture in a short time, sometimes the fruits will split, because they try to expand faster than the skins can stretch. I’m happy to report that the 60 seconds of water my tomatoes were getting every third day during the heat wave/drought, combined with the deep mulch in the paths, prevented my tomatoes from exploding from the recent surge in moisture. As you can see from the photo, all varieties are producing well, and the Carmen and Merlot peppers are also cranking bigtime. Yes, I am cooking down tomatoes into sauce for freezing on a regular basis so as not to waste a single red globe of goodness.
Now, on to a couple of questions.
Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
In the last month, several searches have found my site searching for a “tree with heart-shaped leaves and seed pods.” Sometimes the search says “giant heart-shaped leaves,” which is why I’m fairly certain these searchers are wondering about Princess Trees.
This non-native, highly invasive tree plagues 25 eastern states in the US. It was introduced deliberately as an ornamental tree, and some lumber companies are now actually growing plantations of these invaders for their lumber, which the Japanese adore. In the spring just as invasive Chinese Wisteria is finishing its blooming period in my area, these trees produce large upright clusters of purple flowers that resemble wisteria flowers from a distance. I suppose some might call the flowers pretty; I call them trouble.
The problem lies with the papery seeds that lurk within the abundant clusters of seed capsules. Experts have determined that one tree produces 20 MILLION seeds in one year. These light-weight seeds float far on wind and water, invading disturbed areas like roadsides and newly logged land. These trees can grow 15 feet in one year, and after they are established, it takes serious perseverance to eradicate them. It can be done. The link above offers instructions and more information on this aggressive invader.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Some folks want to know what’s eating the petals of these lovely, tough native wildflowers. The short answer is that any number of bugs may be nibbling on your flowers. In my gardens, where this wildflower thrives on my total neglect, petals do get nibbled. But I have so many that you don’t notice unless you get right on top of them. And I’ve never had a case in which all the petals were devoured. I can always find a plant or two worthy of a photograph.
I’ve also seen questions about whether these flowers multiply, and if they do so every year. In my sandy loam garden soil, my coneflowers multiply vegetatively at least a little every year. From the base of the mother plant, new plants sprout from her roots. When these new plants have a few leaves — usually in late fall — I gently separate them from the mother plant and plant them elsewhere. If I don’t get around to doing this, the baby plants usually manage to grow and flower right where they were born.
Because the central “cones” of the flowers are so showy even in the winter landscape, I don’t cut them off when the flowers fade. I also leave them because the seeds of this native are deemed desirable by goldfinches and several other seed-eating birds. I let the birds devour as much as they want. Inevitably, they scatter some seeds on the ground, at least a few of which sprout to become new plants the following spring. Sometimes, an entire seed head is overlooked by the feathered ones. I can always tell when this happens, because I’ll get a zillion tiny coneflower seedlings sprouting in one spot the next spring. I separate them and transplant them to ensure a continuing supply of these beauties.
Recently, someone found my entry on coneflowers while searching on “my purple coneflower grew a white flower.” Yes, it probably did. In fact named cultivars of white-blooming purple coneflower are sold commercially. ‘White Swan’ is a commonly sold cultivar of this species. If you bought what you thought was a purple-blooming plant from a nursery and it produced white flowers, your seller was careless during propagation. Named cultivars of plants are mostly propagated vegetatively, meaning they grow cuttings from a known desirable plant, or remove offsets from mother plants, as I described above.
But if you grew your coneflowers from seeds, it is entirely possible that one or more of them would produce white flowers. White flowers are a recessive color trait in this species, meaning that two purple coneflowers can produce a white coneflower baby if both carry this recessive color gene, much as two brown-eyed people can produce a blue-eyed child, if both parents carry the recessive gene for blue eyes.
In my gardens, white coneflowers pop up regularly in small numbers, because I do allow the seed heads to complete their life cycles where the plants grow. Personally, I think the white coneflowers contrast nicely with their dominantly purple siblings, adding a little variation to the landscape. I took the following photo of my front garden last year. As you can see, a recessive white-blooming flower grows with its more common purple siblings.
If you bought a named purple-blooming cultivar of purple coneflower from a nursery, you have a right to complain, but if you’ve been letting your coneflowers reproduce on their own, consider the white one a happy addition — a blue-eyed child in a brown-eyed family, if you will.
More answers to your searches in future entries.
Happy gardening to all.
Most gardeners recognize this distinctive perennial flower immediately. Native to prairies, this species has been widely cultivated by the horticulture industry; numerous multi-colored cultivars abound. Although the fancy newcomers provide a certain novelty to landscapes, I prefer the plain species — which is surprisingly variable without any help from horticulturalists.
I grew my Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) from seed originally. They sprouted readily in my greenhouse and were soon large enough to plant in beds throughout my yard. They are pollinator magnets, so some of them grow in an edge flowerbed in my vegetable garden, where I’ve tucked in a diverse array of flowering beauties to spiff up the veggie area, and invite pollinators. They also grow in my front flowerbed … and a side-yard flowerbed … and a rock garden bed .. and probably some other spots I’ve forgotten at the moment. You see, what I learned about these perennials is that, if they are happy, they will multiply.
The blooms last a long time. Purple Coneflowers are in the Composite family, which means each flower consists of two flower types: ray flowers — the ones sporting the lovely, usually purple petals, and disk flowers — the inconspicuous center flowers that, in the case of this species, grow into the “cone” that gives the flower its name as its seeds develop.
These seed cones are a bit prickly to the touch, and the genus name — Echinacea — is derived from the Greek word for hedgehog — echino. Teas and extracts of this plant provide popular herbal remedies. I haven’t tried them, but I know plenty of folks who swear by them.
My plants thrive in full to mostly full sun in good garden soil. I’ve read that they prefer soils on the basic side, so if your soils are very acidic, they might not thrive. But to me, good garden soil means a neutral pH, so this really shouldn’t be an issue. After they are established, they are very drought-resistant, and the pretty petals linger quite a while before they drop off and the cones enlarge as they fill with maturing seeds.
These flowers, which grow between one and three feet tall, depending on where they are and how much competition they have, look great in the front of flower borders. They attract all pollinators, including butterflies. And when the seeds are ripe, the goldfinches tear them to shreds, devouring the seeds with gusto.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must note that deer will eat these flowers. The blooms aren’t their first choice, but if they are hungry, or in the neighborhood, or just feeling spiteful (OK, I admit that’s a personal theory of mine), they will eat the flowers, leaving headless bloom stalks behind.
The goldfinches are responsible for the abundance of Purple Coneflowers now scattered throughout my yard. They are messy eaters. Inevitably, they disperse some seeds into adjacent areas. Every spring, I am surprised by more of the characteristic basal rosettes of leaves that identify this flower.
I mentioned the variability of the seedlings of this flower a bit earlier. Note the flower at the top of this entry. See how the petals droop gracefully? Not all of my Purple Coneflowers look like that. Many have ray flowers that extend straight out, horizontal to the disk flowers. And some of them aren’t even purple. Every so often, a white-petaled Purple Coneflower pops up. I assume it’s a genetically recessive trait that occasionally manifests.
Here’s a parting shot of a group of seedlings that planted themselves together. They amply demonstrate the variability I’ve described.
My advice to every southeastern Piedmont gardener with a sunny flowerbed: If you haven’t done so already, find a spot for a few Purple Coneflowers. They feed native wildlife, and they look fabulous for most of the growing season. They won’t disappoint you — that’s a promise from this Piedmont Gardener!