Tom's Blog

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pale purple coneflower in bloom

Moving along through the summer, our next major flowering plant is pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida). This attractive plant is popular in prairie plantings because of its colorful flowers. Also, it offers a nice contrast to the many yellow-colored flowers that are so common in the summer flora.

In the past week, pale purple coneflower has come into its flowering peak, and we are now seeing it all over Pleasant Valley Conservancy. Although generally considered a prairie plant, we do find this in the more open parts of our savannas.

Pale purple coneflower is often confused with another species, Echinacea purpurea, whose flower color is much more intense and whose leaves are much wider. This latter species is not considered native to Wisconsin, although it was planted extensively at the U.W. Madison Arboretum where it is now widespread in the Curtis Prairie. Purists now forbid its use in prairie mixes for planting Wisconsin prairies.

Pale purple coneflower is State listed as "Threatened" and is found in only a few Wisconsin counties. However, it grows readily in planted prairies and is becoming widespread. All of the pale purple coneflower at Pleasant Valley Conservancy was planted.

I have seen it growing all over in planted prairies but only once in its native state, on the south-facing slope at Swamplover's Ice-Age Trail preserve. Here it was unknown before the hillside was cleared of invasive brush and burned, after which it flourished. Presumably this remnant population had managed to hang on in a suppressed condition through quite a few years of site degradation.


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