Phoenix Perennials and Specialty Plants

From the E-Newsletter: June 2006

An Echinacea Extravaganza
New Colours in Coneflowers

Some of the hottest and most exciting accomplishments in recent plant breeding have been made in developing new coloured hybrids in the genus Echinacea. Two groups of breeders have so far introduced these new colours: the Chicago Botanic Garden with their Meadowbrite series and the Saul Brothers of Atlanta, Georgia with their Big Sky series. Both groups have bred these coneflowers by hybridizing the same two species but with different and interesting results.

The two species in question are Echinacea purpurea, the classic purple coneflower known and loved by gardeners and common cold sufferers alike, and Echinacea paradoxa, a rare yellow-flowered species. It is the crossing of these two species that has given rise to new shades of oranges, corals, yellows and pinks in this genus.

The first of this new generation of coneflowers to arrive on the scene was 'Orange Meadowbrite' (above left) with rich orange petals deepening to a lusty, rusty orange around a fragrant cone. It was followed shortly thereafter by the equally fragrant 'Mango Meadowbrite' (above right) in warm yellow. These two cultivars are interesting for their resemblance in form and structure to species paradoxa -- kind of like a child looking a lot like one its parents but not the other. The plants are somewhat lanky, with smooth narrow leaves as well as narrow, non-overlapping petals. While the colours are bold, the look of the plants and flowers are refined, delicate and with wildflower-like.

The Big Sky series, by contrast, has more of the look and structure of the classic purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea. The leaves and petals are broader, the plants more strongly upright and the petals are more overlapping. The Big Sky series looks just like a normal purple coneflower only with new and exciting colours. This series includes 'Sunrise' (at left) with lemon yellow petals around a gold cone, 'Sunset' with salmon-orange petals and a copper cone (below left), 'Sundown' with coral petals tipped in salmon and broader petals than 'Sunset', 'Harvest Moon' with rich gold petals around a golden-orange cone and 'Twighlight' with rose pink petals around a red cone. All of the cultivars of the Big Sky series are fragrant.

Cultivation: There are a few things about the requirements of coneflowers that any gardener in the Lower Mainland wanting to grow these wonderful plants should know. Coneflowers come from the North American prairies. They are therefore extremely hardy to our temperatures. But they are adapted to dryish, well-drained soils that are average to poor in nutrients. The challenge in the Lower Mainland is to avoid rich beds that are excessively moist in the winter. Plant your coneflowers in well-drained or preferable dry soils in raised beds with average to low nutrients and you should be quite successful.

Currently available at the nursery (and in bud!): 'Mango Meadowbrite', Big Sky 'Sunrise', 'Sunset', and 'Sundown'

Ready in the next 1-4 weeks: 'Orange Meadowbrite', Big Sky 'Harvest Moon' and 'Twighlight'



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