I have a tendency to undervalue our echinaceas (coneflowers). They’re some of the first on my mental chopping block every time I think about changes we could make to existing gardens. Part of it is that we have them in such abundance on the hillside in the backyard, so it’s logical that some of them should go if I want to make room for, say, bachelor buttons — we can spare them. But my dismissing them is not only the result of their simple abundance. (Which is actually not quite so abundant these days, what with the upstart challenger vying for a shot at the big time; brash, oozing pluck and moxie, is the one, the only, GOLDENROD.) Anyway, at the end of the day, echinacea are just not one of my favorites.
(Although — it may be helpful to know that my attitude towards most plants could be illustrated in a very simple hierarchy consisting of just a couple levels, like “My favorite plants” and “Plants I really, really like.” Maybe a third for “Plants that are pretty cool.” Saying something’s not my favorite doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot.)
But maybe my ambivalence only exists in their absence, when I’ve forgotten how lovely they are when they do bloom. That’s pretty short-sighted, huh. Well, I’ll make it up to you, echinacea. In fact I started early this year, admiring them before they even started properly blooming. Here I tried to capture my coney friends in different stages of floral development.
Now it’s time for a horticultural footnote, I guess: Echinacea are in the family Asteraceae, along with daisies, dandelions, asters, sunflowers, and roughly a bajillion others. They’re one of the most successful plants groups out there. Anyway, what looks like one flower in this family is actually many tiny, tiny little flowers or florets; the “petals” are the ray florets, and in the center, or flower head/capitulum, are disc florets. The older name of this group of flowers, Compositae, comes as you may well guess from the word “composite,” which is a description of the inflorescence itself: a composite of many small flowers.