Pale purple coneflower is a showy perennial with a mostly unbranching stem arising from basal leaves, with a single, sunflower-like flower head. The disk is knoblike, brown, with white stamens protruding; the ray flowers are pale purple, rose, or magenta (rarely white), slender and drooping, to 3½ inches long, the ends notched. The pollen is white. Blooms May–July. The basal leaves are in a clump, are strap-shaped, and are up to 13 inches long including the long stalks; the stem leaves are shorter and narrow. The stems and leaves have stiff, spreading hairs. The fruits are 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.
Habitat and Conservation
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.
The regal fritillary, arogos skipper, and Ottoe skipper are three native prairie butterflies that rely heavily on pale purple coneflower for nectar.