Echinacea – Echinacea spp.

Overall At-Risk Score: 44

Latin Name:

Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia; Echinacea is a genus of 10 species and is the most commonly used species in herbal medicine.

Common Name:

Coneflower; Purple Coneflower

Family:

Asteraceae (Aster Family)

Geographic Region:

The geographic range of Echinacea purpurea is most of the eastern U.S., most densely found in states along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Ilinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
Echinacea angustifolia’s range is mainly through the Great Plains region of the U.S. and Canada – Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.
The rest of the genus has ranges from the eastern Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast.

Habitat:

Most commonly found in sunny open roadsides, prairies, and meadows, the Coneflower can be found in open woodlands with filtered sunlight. This genus is incredibly drought resistant when compared to other forbes and can be found in places where most plants have issue thriving.

Lifespan:

Perennial

Reproduction:

Flowering from early to late summer, this genus of wildflowers can reproduce rather prolifically under the proper conditions. Dense seed heads form in the center of the flower where the hard seeds attract finches and other seed eating birds to disperse them.
These flowers also have a moderately high rate of vegetative reproduction, as the rhizomes and taproots can bud off new plants.

Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:

E. purpurea is relatively easy to reproduce from seed, and even small sections of root left after harvest can stay alive to continue growing the next season.
E. angustifolia is more difficult to cultivate and reproduce from seeds, causing this species to be at more at risk of over harvest.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

E. purpurea is listed as Endangered in Florida and Probably Extirpated in Michigan, both of which are on the extreme fringes of its native range.
E. laevigata and E. tennesseensis are both listed as Federally Endangered. Both have rather small historic ranges, E. tennesseensis being a very old remnant species that exists in only 3 counties in Tennessee.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

The roots are the most sought after part of the plant, which is why wild harvest can have such an impact on these species. Species of Echinacea have been used for centuries by native peoples and by European colonizers in North America to treat a variety of cold and flu symptoms. Currently it is sold as an “immune booster” in many commercial settings.

Vulnerability of habitat/changes of habitat quality and availability:

Relying on healthy, open grasslands and prairies, this genus of wildflowers is often at risk of habitat loss due to expansion of livestock pastures and increased agricultural development in prairie regions.

Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:

N/A

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Often misidentified and lumped in with E. angustifolia, several species of Echinacea are harvested and disturbed due to the growing wild harvested market of this plant medicine.

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

The practice of wild harvesting needs to be limited and stopped in most parts of the native range. Cultivation of this species can easily be done in most of the country, and is viable for large scale operations.

  1. USDA E. purpurea – https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ecpu
  2. USDA E. angustifolia – https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_ecan2.pdf
  3. Steven Foster, Planting the Future, pg. 94-95, 97-98.

Historical Background

Echinacea purpurea has been cultivated as a hardy, showy perennial garden ornamental since the early 1700s 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 are sufficient. For E. angustifolia seeds sixty to ninety days of cold, moist stratification are 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 species, E. angustfolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea, are commercially traded on world markets as an herbal medicine (known as phytomedicine) or the herbal dietary supplement echinacea. In the wholesale herb market E. angustifolia is traded as Kansas snakeroot. The commercial supply of Kansas snakeroot, however, has not always just involved E. angustifolia. Other species of echinacea have been thrown into mixed lots of the herb, including E. purpurea, E. pallida, E. atrorubens, E. paradoxa, and E. simulata. The conservation problem in the 1980s was not that E. angustifolia was being harvested, but that other species with relatively narrow ranges, such as E. atrorubens, E. simulata, and E. paradoxa, 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 marshmallow, 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, so both of these herbs are also good alternatives.

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

 

This plant sponsored by:


Echinacea Podcast – The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre