The Hardest Working Perennial

The hardest working perennial in my garden is coneflower.

A bevy of beautiful blossoms!, one of my favorite sources for information on native plants, mentions that

Echinacea purpurea

attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Which is true--but that's true of plenty of other plants, as well. So what makes me say that THIS plant is the hardest working perennial of your wildlife garden? What makes it so special?

Honeybee on the lower blossom, fly or wasp at top.

I would begin by saying that

the ease with which it becomes established

in your landscape is essential. When we start planting for wildlife, we don't want to have to work really hard just to keep a plant alive. If that's the case, we'll get tired of it and look for something else that will yield results. Purple Coneflower will never treat you like that. Purple Coneflower will take over when you're not looking. Which, if the object is to establish habitat--bug and bird grocery store, if you will--then you really do want something that will reseed or spread and fill an area for you in just a few years. Unless you have deep enough pockets that you can afford the instant gratification of purchasing a dozen of these puppies at a time and putting them in the ground. If you can manage this, more power to you! Take over your neighbor's yard, too!

What's happening here?

Secondly, coneflower is special because

so many pollinators love this plant

. Something in its DNA makes it--well, think of it as the equivalent to chocolate for women. Not being sexist here, just stating facts. If I'm a pollinator, that flower looks like Hershey, Pennsylvania. Putting coneflower into your landscape is like rolling out ice cream on a hot summer day. Everybody wants some of THAT. The large center of the blossom gives butterflies plenty of space to land, and the fact that all of that center "cone" is full of individual flowers means they have lots to drink up. Painted Ladies, Swallowtails, Fritillaries and Monarchs will all love your coneflowers. Even more interesting, however, is the number of other little flies and bees that materialize to take advantage of the nectar and pollen. Many of the insects attracted are beneficials who will attack the "bad" insects that hurt your vegetable garden. Besides these beneficials, honeybees, bumblebees, leaf-cutting bees, miner bees, bee flies, Halictine bees, butterflies and skippers will all flock to your coneflower.

The beauty of attracting all these pollinators is that they will frequently hit the blossoms in your vegetable garden while they are hanging around, as well. So giving up some soil for pollinators has fringe benefits for your pantry.

Female goldfinch on coneflower.

Finally, coneflower isn't just for pollinators--

songbirds love coneflower, too

. You will know a true wildlife gardener by the naked stems of scaggy-looking coneflower staggering across her flower beds. But lo! Shots of yellow amongst the blackened stalks! Goldfinches like nothing better than to denude coneflower heads of their ripened seed. Song sparrows also like coneflower--and they will sing to me all year, so I really do like to have something in the cupboard for them. Chickadees also will assault your crop of coneflower. You may also spot other finches, pine siskins and even Indigo buntings on your coneflower crop. Personally, I consider it a triumph to walk by the stripped seed heads on my evening garden walkabout--don't you?


Eastern Purple Coneflower


What Flowers Do Bees Pollinate?



University of Illinois


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