Echinacea pallida, pale purple coneflower, is of the prairies and the hardscrabble, as tough and beautiful as a Dorothea Lange photograph or Hank Williams song. Pale purple coneflower is a perennial native to the eastern half of the United States. Pale coneflower thrives in tough conditions, poor soil, and full sun. I came upon a field of Echinacea and earned every photograph shown here. The mosquitoes tortured me like I was some great wounded animal.
The stand of pale purple coneflower where I photographed was covered bees, butterflies, and beetles.
Echinacea pallida begins blooming in late May in Georgia, perhaps later if you are further north. Butterflies love pale coneflowers and so do the bees and beetles. After the first mass bloom, you will get a few blooms all the way into fall if you deadhead with any effort at all. It blooms a couple of weeks before the more commonly grown purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.
Echinacea pallida is rarely found in gardens. Its cousin purple coneflower is the more readily available choice. Echinacea pallida is tough, incredibly drought tolerant, and for you gardeners that have poor soils, it will laugh off the challenge. Full sun is strongly preferred or the stems can get floppy. I have grown it in partial shade when that’s all I had and the relaxed habit was of little concern.
You will see pale purple coneflower’s height specified at 24″-36″ but I’ve seen it taller. The stand photographed here had plants nearer four feet tall. I was happy to see the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center correlate my experience, as they indicate it can grow to six feet tall. Foliage can best be described as strap-like, and the flower rays are droopy affairs of a pale pink complexion, surrounding a magenta-purple disk. Frankly, the petals are such a light pink they are much closer to white than the purple in its name. The flowers are larger than those of purple coneflower, capable of reaching 8″ long.
Pale purple coneflower is deer resistant.
Considering pale purple coneflower evolved in North America and has been used by native Americans for centuries, it makes sense that it can withstand deer predation. This write-up from the USDA has some great historical information regarding Echinacea pallida, which includes medicinal use pre-dating Europeans’ arrival in America.
It is a fairly coarse plant, perfect in a landscape of bluestem and other grasses, or tucked in here and there in the landscape. I used to recommend not massing pale purple coneflower, but I’ve changed my mind after seeing a colony in a field. The amazing thing was the amount of life crowding its way into the massed coneflowers.
It reminded me of those brilliant Planet Earth documentaries where the predators and prey coexist in order to share the limited water available. There were bees. There were beetles. A wasp or two flew by and of course, there were butterflies. Hummingbirds reportedly visit pale purple coneflower, although none stopped by the day I was there.
All kinds of bees visit pale purple coneflower.
My favorite named bee, the long-tongued bee, likes Echinacea. The Atlantic reports climate change is causing the tongues of long-tongued bees to shrink, a worrisome development. Regarding butterflies, the leaves provide food for larvae of the Ottoe Skipper, Hesperia ottoe. In addition, caterpillars of common Eupithecia and wavy-lined emerald moths as well as the silvery checkerspot butterfly feed on pale purple coneflower.
Most of us are familiar with the love goldfinches have for purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. Goldfinches snack on pale coneflower seeds as well.
Echinacea pallida is remarkably winter hardy, well into zone 3. It is the only coneflower native to Ontario, Canada by the way. As mentioned it is native to the eastern United States and rarely found west of the Mississippi River. Its natural habitat is early successional meadows, prairies, open disturbed places, and pinelands.
It is very adaptable, but if you grow it in really rich soil with lots of water, it may be weak-stemmed. California poppies, native perennials of tough spaces as well, are similar in this regard.
In closing, this species is among the best of our native perennials. Attempt to site pale purple coneflower in a way that suggests it just showed up on its own accord, blown in on the wind.