Coneflower is the common name for nine species of Echinacea, some of which have a long history of use as medicinal herbs. It is a purely North American genus, growing in grasslands and open woodlands of the eastern and central states, especially the prairies of the Midwest.
The herb has an easy, reliable, all-American air to it, a familiar and trustworthy member of perennial borders in gardens everywhere. Its drooping lavender petals are beautiful, yet modest; the basal leaves are hardly noticed and the stiff stalks are unpretentious as they tremble in the breeze. Coneflower is nearly perfect in its simplicity and hard not to love.
Coneflower genes are somewhat malleable and plant breeders have coaxed a handful of colorful variations from them. White, tangerine, hot pink, pale yellow and deep purple forms are all available, as well as obscure ruffled varieties and at least one unique coneflower cultivar that emits a fragrant perfume.
Echinacea is derived from the Greek word for sea urchin, a reference to the spiny cushion of florets at the center of the flower head. The tiny florets are full of nectar and serve as a buffet table for the butterflies often seen fluttering about a bed of coneflowers.