The next installment of my Missouri Native Species Collection features the very recognizable Yellow Coneflower.
A native to Missouri, the Yellow Coneflower is unique in its coloring. All other members of the genus Echinacea have pink-to-purple petals. Echinacea, a derivative of the Greek word “echinos” (meaning hedgehog, sea urchin) refers to the flowers’s large and spiky central cone. The “paradox” in its scientific name “Echinacea paradoxa” refers to the curious yellow coloring of the petals, an outsider of the usual Echinacea plant.
Various stages of petal development.
Yellow Coneflower is listed as being nearly entirely endemic to the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas. The yellow coloring of this flower appears nowhere else (naturally) in the world. Because of this special trait, the roots of the plant are highly sought after and sold illegally. There have been many reports of vandalism to fields as perpetrators infiltrate prairies and glades to harvest Yellow Coneflower roots for sale.
Tall, spiky central cones often survive the wilting process. Coneflower seeds provide food for small birds and rodents during the winter months.
Characteristics of the Yellow Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa)
Family: Asteraceae (daisies, sunflowers)
Yellow Coneflower is an herbaceous perennial plant that flowers from June to August. Standing at 2 to 3 feet tall, this showy and fragrant flower attracts butterflies, bees, and other insects. The tall and spiky central cone often survives the wilting stage and continues to nourish small birds and rodents with seeds throughout the Fall and Winter months. Single flowerheads featuring long, drooping yellow petals and a tall central cone sit atop basal, star-shaped leaves.
The underside of the flower reveals basal, star-shaped leaves upon which the single flowerhead rests.
Yellow Coneflower is endemic to the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks and can be found widespread throughout the region. Easily grown in full sun across a variety of mediums, this hearty flower is a common staple in open fields, prairies, and glades. Yellow Coneflower is highly tolerant of drought, heat, humidity, and poor soil conditions. Sub-species Echinacea paradoxa neglecta (Bush’s Purple Coneflower) can be found throughout Oklahoma and Texas.
18th century botanists originally classified Yellow Coneflower as a member of the genus Rudbeckia which includes a very similar looking plant, the Black-Eyed Susan. By the late 1700’s botanists reclassified the plant into its own genus, Echinacea. While both the Black-Eyed Susan and the Yellow Coneflower are part of the aster plant family, differentiation lies within flower size, petal color, and petal growth (outward vs. drooping). Both plants share more similarities than differences and are often referred to interchangeably.
Medicinal & Culinary Uses
Yellow Coneflower has a long history of medicinal use among Native Americans. People have utilized its antimicrobial and antiviral properties to support the immune system in a variety of ways. Today, products containing Echinacea are used to treat a variety of illnesses including coughs and colds, bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, gingivitis, ear infections, and many more.
Chewing on the flower’s seeds can result in a numbing response, and so people have used the seeds to ease tooth-pain. It is important to note that evidence for its medicinal uses are anecdotal and have not yet been scientifically documented.
It is not uncommon to see small finches perched atop the thick central cones.
Chefs and culinary aficionados have used coneflower petals as a garnish in a variety of dishes and salads. The deeply saturated color of the petals adds a bright, cheerful touch to culinary cuisine.
Coneflower can grow in massive groups and thrive in a variety of conditions.
Yellow Coneflower is an abundant and delightful plant that brings a cheery appearance to fields and glades. Its high tolerance to a variety of soil and weather conditions make it a constant staple in the Midwestern summer prairie. Gardeners can continue to plant Yellow Coneflower as a benefit to native pollinators. Larger predators like deer and rabbits tend to leave the plant alone, and its thick growth can provide an effective garden boundary to repel smaller rodents and pests. A popular resident of wildflower and herbal gardens, the Yellow Coneflower is an immunity-boosting, hearty plant that will continue to survive and thrive in our changing landscape.
See more Missouri Native Species:
Technical: Fujifilm X100V
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Wikipedia, Missouri Department of Conservation