Missouri abounds with lovely wildflowers of every shape and color but none are more elegant than the glade coneflower. Its beauty is subtle but its architecture stops nature lovers in their tracks. Maybe it’s the plant’s lavender straps, which hang loosely from a rufous crown like ears on a basset hound, streaming delicately in the wind. Typically found in glades, hence the name, glade coneflowers add grace to Missouri’s natural landscape.
Coneflowers of glades and prairies are represented by two closely related species, the glade coneflower, Echinacea simulata, and the pale purple coneflower, Echinacea pallida. Plant taxonomists distinguish the plants mainly by pollen color. E. pallida has white pollen and is more widespread while E. simulata, also called the glade coneflower, has yellow pollen and is more common in glades. The glade coneflower’s hairy stem grows unbranched to 3 feet tall with a terminal flower. A perennial, with lance-shaped basal leaves, it blooms from May to July. The spiked flower head inspired the genus name of the coneflower, Echinacea, which is Greek for “hedgehog,” a spiny mammal. As with other plants of the genus Echinacea, the glade coneflower is valued for its medicinal qualities, but it is important to remember that digging up native plants on public land or even along roadsides in Missouri is illegal. Coneflowers are valued by insects, including butterflies and bees, for their pollen and nectar. Also, a variety of birds can be found foraging in late summer and early fall on coneflower seeds.
Coneflowers are a wonderful addition to native landscaping projects, especially where direct sunlight is available. They are easily transplanted in the fall but can also be planted from seed if you are willing to wait a few years for the plant to mature and bloom. My wife and I grow a variety of coneflowers around our home in Franklin County. To expand our garden we simply cut entire seed heads from selected plants and save them for planting in new locations. Plants can also be divided for replanting or sharing with friends and family.
One of the things I love about coneflowers is the way they attract American goldfinches in late summer after their heads go to seed. Every day when I return home from work, a dozen or more golden jewels are feeding voraciously on coneflower seeds. As a photographer, I’m always excited to capture a new pose as one of the male finches, a black-capped lemon drop, hangs from a withering flower, eyeing me carefully to determine my intentions. The interaction between coneflowers and goldfinches has become an annual event at our home, signifying the end of summer and the beginning of the cool, crisp days of fall—my favorite time of year.
—Story and photo by Danny Brown, 70–200mm lens • f/7.1 • 1/160 sec • ISO 200
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