Recent Developments in Echinacea Breeding
Going CONE CRAZY™
By Susan Martin
Prized for their large,
brightly coloured, daisy-like flowers, Purple Coneflowers
earned the nickname ‘King of the
Daisies’. They are a mainstay in today’s
landscape, as their eye-catching blooms
fascinate gardeners across the country. In
addition, they provide winter-long
architectural interest with their rounded
cones on stiffly upright stems. Seed-eating
birds such as sparrows and finches delight in
them all winter long at a time when food for
purpurea is a wildflower
native to the eastern United States and is
well adapted to survive the hot, windy
conditions typical of that region. Their long
taproot stores water, giving them the ability
to withstand periods of drought once they
are established. Light, loamy soil is best, but
they can adapt to any well-drained soil.
Coneflowers like it sunny and hot. Best
performance will be attained in full sun,
though light shade is tolerated.
Deadheading spent flowers significantly
prolongs their bloom time.
SKY 'Sunrise’ PPAF
This season, we are thrilled
to introduce two new awesome Coneflowers from Itsaul
Nurseries in Atlanta, Georgia. For the past
10 years, Richard Saul has specialized in
hybridizing Echinacea. As a result of this
hard work and dedication, the company is
ready to introduce a brand new series called
Big Sky™. These hybrids are the result of
crosses between E.
purpurea and E.
paradoxa. They have inherited the dominant
characteristics of E.
fuller, toothed leaves and wider flower
petals. The blossoms have slightly re-flexed
petals and a sweet rose-like fragrance.
Plants are well branched and are vigorous
Perhaps best of all, these new Coneflowers
are not purple!
‘Sunrise’ PPAF is
refreshing citron-yellow, the same colour as Coreopsis
The central cone starts out green, then widens and turns
gold as it ages.
‘Sunset’ PPAF is electrifying orange with a
prominent, brownish central cone. Its petals
overlap slightly, giving the blossoms a full,
SKY 'Sunset’ PPAF
We haven’t seen
this much excitement with Echinacea in years and these
new selections are already proving to be some of the
hottest new perennials this year. Keep an
eye out for more exciting introductions
coming soon from Itsaul Nurseries.
Meadowbrite™ Series – Echinacea
Orange and Mango
Meadowbrite™ (Reprinted with permission)
Orange and mango coloured
coneflowers? That's right! The Chicago Botanical Gardens
is opening up a whole new palette of
Echinacea colors with their recent breeding
advancements. They are developing new
and improved varieties of coneflower, a
native plant prized for its beauty, hardiness,
and long bloom time.
has harbored a love for plants since being a young
child. She has a BS in education from Eastern Michigan
University, has owned and operated her own landscape
design company, and is currently pursuing her passion
for plants and writing as a Marketing Assistant
for Walters Gardens Inc., a wholesale perennial
company in Zeeland, Michigan.
A member of the aster family, this
deservedly popular genus is very well
known, especially in its purple form,
purpurea. Naturally occurring
hybrids have been reported, as well as the
ability to artificially cross the species.
However, very few inter-specific hybrids
have been developed intentionally.
In the past several years, the Chicago
Botanical Garden has successfully made a
number of inter-specific hybrid crosses
from E. angustifolius, E. laevigata, E.
purpurea, and E.
Several three-species hybrids bloomed for
the first time in 2000, some with novel
flower colors such as yellow, orange and
red. These hybrids also exhibited several
spontaneous traits, including a proliferation
of the ray flowers, tubular fused rays (like
those of a dahlia), and the combination of
both horizontal and upright rays.
Researchers at the Chicago Botanical
Garden are currently observing these plants
for their ornamental value and continuing
their crossbreeding efforts.
Six years ago, Jim Ault,
Ph.D., the Garden's Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Director
of Ornamental Plant Research, began
crossbreeding Echinacea species. Starting with
E. angustifolia, E.
and E. paradoxa,
and then crossed these hybrids. In total, he made 96
crosses between the species. Perhaps his most exciting
discovery was the vibrant gold-orange colors that appeared
in hybrids of E. paradoxa x E. purpurea.
the orange coneflower actually owes its existence to a
long-overlooked 1968 taxonomic monograph about all the
Echinacea species. In fact, it is what gave Dr.
Ault the idea for breeding the plant. 'It was
surprising that this information had been
readily available for 30 years!' he said. And
within a few years, Dr. Ault's new orange
coneflower may be widely available too.
'Gardeners always want
something new, and the current interest in native plants
makes this coneflower even more desirable'
Creating new plants that gardeners covet
is just the beginning, however. Many people
don't realize all of the work that goes into
introducing a new plant. The extensive
process of propagation and evaluation
actually takes many, many years.
In order to produce sufficient
quantities of a plant that all share a consistent appearance,
the tissue culture method of propagation is
used. Two to three years of evaluation takes
place at the Chicago Botanical Garden and
at nurseries nationwide. After this time, if
the coneflower makes the grade for disease
and pest resistance, cold hardiness, and
sturdiness of habit, it may be propagated in
sufficient quantities to be sold.