The genus name, Echinacea, if from the Greek "echino", meaning hedgehog, a reference to the spiny cones. Indian head, American cone flower, black Susan, black Sampson, comb flower, hedgehog, Kansas snakeroot, scurvy root, and snakeroot are other aliases this plant can be known by.
There are probably more Purple Coneflowers in gardens than in the wild. This popular perennial has found a way into gardens all across Chicago. What accounts for the popularity of this perennial plant even among gardeners who don't grow any other plants suitable for prairie-style gardens? It is an easy-to-grow, drought tolerant plant readily available in garden centers in our area, sometimes for less than the price of a cup of coffee. The showy lavender petals that radiate outwards from a spiny cone are certainly a plus. The flowers that sit atop 2-5' tall stems are long-lasting and visited by bees and butterflies in the garden. In the fall and winter the seeds that form within the cone are a food source for birds like the American Goldfinch. During the growing season Purple Coneflower requires little care. Once established it can thrive in sunny gardens with minimal watering and the flowers make excellent cut flowers.
The common names of this plant also give us a hint as to its popularity. Purple Coneflowers have a history of medicinal use among Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments. In the spring of 1805 Meriwether Lewis sent President Jefferson a shipment of Indian artifacts that contained roots of a Purple Coneflower (E.angustifolia) that the Plains Indians used to treat snakebites. The dried seed heads were reportedly once used as combs to untangle hair. Today, we have better combs, but different parts of different species are marketed as herbal remedies.
Voting is now open, click here to fill out your ballot and you'll receive the seeds for free in the mail after April 24, 2010. Feel free to comment below and discuss this plant with your fellow gardeners. Just remember that leaving a comment here does not constitute a vote. You'll have to fill out the ballot so we can mail you the seeds.