Captivating Coneflowers - From the World’s Top Breeders to Your Garden

Inspiration

Thanks to Handpicked for You® founding grower, Overdevest Nurseries' David Wilson for sharing his expertise on captivating coneflowers.

 

When most of us walk into our favorite garden center and survey the dazzling array of beautiful garden plants on offer, we can’t help but notice the color, the size and features of the botanical wonders that sit there in front of our eyes. Closer inspection of the tag (or a consultation with a sales associate) will often reveal the answers to questions like…. Is it suitable for our area? Is it reliable and easy to grow? Will it perform as it’s supposed to? Is it right for my garden? Does it attract desirable wildlife? etc. Then comes the irresistible impulse to take it home, to grow and enjoy it, and show it off to friends and family.

But, few of us know that behind every plant is a long and sometimes eventful and fascinating history of introduction and development.

Take for example Coneflowers. Botanically classified as Echinacea, these are without doubt some of our finest and most popular native perennials. Echinacea is known by some as a popular herbal medicine but most plants are grown for their beautiful ornamental qualities, and their long list of garden virtues include:

  • Rugged hardiness
  • Drought tolerance (once established)
  • Easy to grow (which includes low susceptibly to pests and diseases)
  • Long lasting flower performance
  • Ability to attract and sustain butterflies and other pollinators
  • Feed small birds with their seed filled cones
  • Low maintenance requirements (very important to those of us with busy lifestyles)
  • A cut flower with a good long vase life.

But did you know that Echinacea purpurea (the most popular and best known of the nine or so species) was collected by an English born Anglican Minister called John Banister?  He sent seed back to his second cousin Bishop Henry Compton, and to the Oxford Botanic Garden in England.  Tragically (like several other plant hunters in the pursuit of promising new plants), he met an untimely death when he was accidentally shot by a companion while on a collecting expedition in Virginia in 1692.      

Since then, Echinacea have been cultivated as garden and medicinal plants, but it was not until the latter part of the last century that their popularity began to increase. They really began to take off when the Perennial Plant Association named Echinacea 'Magnus' their Perennial Plant of the Year in 1998.

At that time the color range was limited to only shades of purplish-pink and white, and it was not until Dr. Jim Ault at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Richard Saul at Itsaul Plants began making crosses with other species, that the arrival of orange and yellow shaded hybrids began to emerge.

Excitement and popularity blossomed, and other breeders in the Netherlands and here in the US began breeding and selecting for new flower forms, shorter habit, expanded color range and better survivability as garden perennials.  And that’s where the exciting story continues today….

For along with a wider palette of colors, come plants with shorter sturdier habits, better bushier branching, increased flowering and very importantly, improved garden performance.     

Accomplishing some remarkable work in this direction is Jainping Ren, Senior Plant Breeder at Ball Horticultural / Pan American Seed / Kieft Seeds with her ground-breaking Echinacea Sombrero® series.

nping Ren, Senior Plant Breeder at Ball Horticultural / Pan American Seed / Kieft Seeds

Of particular note is E. sombrero®  Adobe Orange and E. sombrero®  Salsa Red.  Together with the venerable Echinacea ‘Magnus’ these three Echinacea join the 60 plus trusted plants have been awarded the valued Handpicked for You® Trustmark that assures home owners of the plants’ superior garden performance in their local area.  

They are excellent examples of how this certification program is focused on evaluating and testing a wide variety of ornamental plants for their suitability to local conditions and overall garden performance and reliability.

These selections are available at select independent garden centers in Eastern and Midwestern portions of the United States and Canada. To find the garden centers nearest to where you live just enter your zip code in this locator

Meanwhile, there is another very talented breeder working on expanding the range of exceptional coneflowers and that’s Harini Korlipara at Terra Nova Nurseries.

Harini Korlipara, Terra Nova Nurseries

Harini has been at the forefront of developing interspecific selections that have strong, powerful colors and novel habits and flower shapes.

What’s really exciting is that she along with Ping and other visionary breeders, are not resting on their laurels, for they are busy at work pushing the boundaries of science and plant development to bring us other new and promising selections.

The question is…  

  • Are they as good (or perhaps even better) than the ones we already grow and know about?
  • How hardy are they?
  • Will they perform in our local areas?
  • Are they worth me spending my money on? etc.

Lots of queries that the Handpicked for You® program is determined to find answers to.

Many of these promising creations are currently undergoing the scrutiny of evaluation.  Some have even successfully passed the initial stages of testing and could be available in small quantities at your favorite garden centers this summer.  So, keep your eyes peeled, because some of these goodies could well be on display at a Handpicked for You® garden center near your home. You’ll be able to easily identify them by looking for this special “NEW” tag.  

   

Those that pass muster and measure up to the demanding Handpicked for You® criteria could in time become certified Handpicked for You® selections too. This testing and trialing process extends to the garden centers in your area.  If you come across any of these plants, you’ll be able to see them first hand and you can also participate in the testing process by letting the folk at the garden center know what you think of them, and how they are doing for you.   

To give you even more insight into these outstanding coneflowers and the enthralling details and stories behind them, I recently had the opportunity to interview both Ping and Harini. I wanted to get the scoop on their background, the specifics on their remarkable achievements and breeding philosophies and also obtain an understanding of what new advancements we might see in the years ahead!

Here’s a link to the Q & A I had with Ping where she kindly shared particulars of her work, thoughts and ambitions, and here’s Harini's story, views and aspirations.

So now, thanks to the visionary work of dedicated plant breeders like these two remarkable women,  hundreds of progressive independent garden centers, and innovative production nurseries, we can look forward to obtaining outstanding, cutting edge plant choices.  

More importantly, thanks to the Handpicked for You®  trialing process we can buy them with confidence knowing that each plant not only has an interesting history and background story but has undergone a thorough testing and trialing procedure. A reassurance that comes from teams of experts (including the people at our local garden centers) all working together and doing their best to bring us the finest, carefully vetted and scrutinized plants for our enjoyment, success and pleasure.