Even to someone intimately acquainted with the genus Echinacea, many of the latest coneflowers elicit a double take. Some are nearly unrecognizable; others represent a dramatic divergence from those that nature made.
It is the wild ones that Kelly Kindscher, an ethnobotanist and professor of environmental studies at the University of Kansas, has made the central theme of a career focused on prairie plant communities.
“It’s truly an iconic American genus,” Dr. Kindscher said of Echinacea, which many taxonomists count as including seven naturally occurring species, although some acknowledge as many as 10. Only one, Echinacea angustifolia — the westernmost species that he calls “the most important medicinal plant of the prairie,” used for hundreds of years by Native Americans — is found outside the continental United States, in a small part of the Canadian plains.
Mt. Cuba Center, the native-plant garden and research facility in Delaware, has some advice before you go all doubles-crazy, which a recent report from the organization described as “a trade-off for style over substance.” Choose well, and you can have both.
multiyear study of Echinacea in 2020, comparing the many species and cultivars — a total of 75 coneflowers, said Sam Hoadley, the trial garden manager who led the research.