February 2018

Cheyenne Spirit coneflower delights humans and pollinators alike

‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is a seed-grown coneflower that caught everyone’s eye in the Marion County Extension and Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Photo courtesy All-America Selections

The National Garden Bureau has named 2014 the Year of Echinacea to celebrate our native coneflower.

A worthy and reliable proponent of the title is last year’s All-America Selections ‘Cheyenne Spirit’, an extremely well-performing coneflower that went from seed started indoors in February to flowers in the June garden.

Because it is seed grown, this perennial coneflower has a mix of purple, pink, red and orange to pale yellow, cream and white blooms. ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ gets about 24 inches tall and 20 inches wide.

It was a spectacular show-stopper in the Marion County Extension and Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Lots of visitors asked about this plant.

Gardeners have been struggling with coneflower survival for the last several years. The faster breeders and marketers brought coneflowers to the market, the poorer the plants’ performance.

These pricey perennials had weak stems, poor flower power, were susceptible to disease or did not make it through winter. Breeders have gotten the message and seem to be doing a better job of trialing their plants throughout the country for several years before putting them on the garden center bench.

Still today, though, many coneflower breeders say gardeners should not let the plant bloom its first year. It’s better to snip off buds and blooms to let the plant bulk up its roots, they say.

In my mind, that’s a hard sell. Why would we pay $15, $20 or more for plant — one with native blood, no less — and not let it bloom? Why not let the professional growers hang on to the plants until they are in their second year? Although growers may have greenhouses, holding plants for more than a year becomes a space problem and winter-maintenance headache.

I know the Chicago Botanic Garden is in the midst of evaluating coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), including many of the new introductions, but it will be a while until it is released.

Meantime, check with gardeners, garden centers and others to see which coneflowers have done well for them. Perhaps we need to modify our expectations and accept that coneflowers are not a long-lived perennial. But we need to plant them anyway, because bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love them as much as we do.


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