Historical Background

Echinacea purpurea has been cultivated as a hardy, showy, perennial garden ornamental since the early 1700’s, in both North America and Europe. It is easily grown from seeds, is drought tolerant, will grow in full sun or partial shade, and thrives on neglect. E. pallida is commonly planted in prairie restoration projects, meadow lawn plantings, and sometimes in herb gardens. E. angustifolia is the most difficult echinacea species to grow.

Commercial growers of Echinacea purpurea often direct-sow seeds to a depth of about 1/4 inch, keeping the soil moist until emergence (generally in about two weeks). If the E. purpurea seeds are from a wild source (not cultivated material), a period of cold, moist stratification at 43 degrees for thirty days is recommended. Echinacea seeds are embryo dormant, and a period of cold, moist stratification greatly increases the speed and frequency of germination. Seeds can be placed in a mix of sand and peat, set out doors (covered with a mesh screen to keep critters out), and left over the winter. For E. pallida seeds thirty to sixty days of stratification is sufficient. For E. angustifolia seeds sixty to ninety days of cold, moist stratification is recommended. A study published in 1994 by researchers at South Dakota State University found that a two-week prechill treatment combined with ethephon and continuous light, followed by a two week germination period in light (sixteen hours per a day) at 77 degrees, could induce better than 95 percent seed germination in E. Angustifolia, which is significantly higher than with any method previously known. If grown from seeds, expect flowers in the second or third year. When other plants succumb to droughty conditions, echinaceas will withstand the dry weather with little attention. They do well in any average, well-drained garden soil and prefer a lightly alkaline to neutral pH. Good drainage is essential. Echinaceas do not favor highly enriched, wet soils. Full sun is preferable, though E. purpurea does well under dappled shade. Yield of up to a ton of dried root and tops per acre can be expected.

Indeed conservation resources around the world focus much more on animals than on plants, despite the fact that plant-species loss is far greater than loss of animal life. Echinacea poses some special conservation concerns. Three of the genus’ nine—E. angustfolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea—are commercially traded on world markets as the herbal medicine known as phytomedicine or the herbal dietary supplement echinacea. In the wholesale herb market E. angustifolia is traded as Kansas snakeroot. I discovered that the commercial supply of Kansas snakeroot, however, did not just involve E. angustifolia. Other species of echinacea were being thrown into mixed lots of the herb, including E. angustifolia, E. pallida, E. atrorubens, E. paradoxa, and E. simulata. To my mind the conservation problem in the 1980s was not that E. angustifloia was being harvested, but that other species with relatively narrow ranges—such as E. atrorubens, E. simulata, and E. paracoxa—were being harvested as E. angustifolia. This conscious or unconscious misidentification was at the root of real conservation concerns.

UpS Recommendations

  • Use only cultivated resources.
  • Possible alternatives include marsh mallow, boneset, and astragalus. Spilanthes nicely replaces the herb’s antibacterial, antiviral, immunostimulating, and antifungal effects. Burdock is antibacterial for bacteria classified as gram-positive, and thyme has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties; both of these herbs are also good alternatives.

~Steven Foster, Planting the Future, pg. 94-95, 97-98


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Echinacea Podcast – The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre