The native American coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, of the Midwestern prairies has been popular within its native range longer than anyone can remember, and has become more popular in the West as extracts of echinacea became a fad in herbal medicine several years ago. Modern garden varieties and cultivars have been bred and hybridized for larger and more colorful flowers.
Coneflower has developed from a sturdy but relatively simple prairie wildflower into a flashy and potentially garish perennial, with white, pink, red, orange, yellow, purplish pink or pale green daisy (composite) flowers as wide as three or even four inches. The fat and bristly rust-colored centers become more prominent as the outer petals (ray florets) fold downward to form a domed cone.
The sturdy upright stems can get taller than three feet and wider than two feet, although some garden varieties are more compact. The somewhat raspy basal foliage is full and fluffy, but becomes progressively sparser higher up the stems. Some rare cultivars bloom with double flowers. New growth replaces the old annually, and with plenty of sunlight, blooms through the warmth of summer.