Pale Purple Coneflower

Echinacea pallida
Family

Asteraceae (daisies)

Description

Showy perennial with a mostly unbranching stem arising from basal leaves, with a single, sunflower-like flower head. Disk knoblike, brown, with white stamens protruding; ray flowers pale purple, rose or magenta (rarely white), slender and drooping, to 3½ inches long, the ends notched. Pollen white. Blooms May–July. Basal leaves in a clump, strap-shaped, up to 13 inches long including the long stalks; stem leaves shorter and narrow. Stems and leaves with stiff, spreading hairs. Fruits in a burrlike, dome-shaped head that blackens upon drying.

Similar species: Glade coneflower (E. simulata) has yellow, not white pollen; it occurs mainly in the eastern Ozarks.

Size

Height: to 3 feet.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in prairies, glades, savannas, openings of dry upland forests, pastures, roadsides, and railroads. Along with other flowers in the genus Echinacea, this plant is often targeted by unscrupulous "root collectors" who sell them to manufacturers of herbal medicines. Such vandalism is one reason laws were enacted restricting the collecting of plants from Missouri's public highways.

image of Pale Purple Coneflower distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Scattered statewide, although apparently absent from the Mississippi Lowlands; in the eastern Ozarks, glade coneflower (Echinacea simulata) tends to predominate.

Human connections

Though scientists debate its efficacy, this and other echinaceas are used for medicinal purposes and are threatened by root diggers. Laws restricting collection have been enacted to protect wild populations. Coneflowers are easily grown in gardens and are available at native plant nurseries.

Ecosystem connections

The seeds of coneflowers are eaten by goldfinches, whose late-summer breeding time corresponds with the abundant seed set of these and other sunflower-family flowers such as goldenrods, ironweed, and others. The tough rootstocks of coneflowers prevent erosion.