Night of the living echinacea

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.

1. Nothin’ but bracts

2. Bracts

2a. Bracts just beginning to open and reveal the goodness inside. It felt right to include a picture with a mosquito in it today: they are simply awful right now.

3. Little purple-tinged ray florets ringing their disc floret brethren.

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.

4. Green disc florets.

5. Ray florets turning their characteristic purple

6. Disk florets a-glow and oddly yellow, sparse ray florets?


8. I couldn’t say what’s happening here. Perhaps this flower is suffering some anxiety over the thought of maturing all at once, and it’s repeatedly hitting the snooze button on its own development?


10. There we go. That looks like echinacea.

11. Bonus time: a developing bee balm (monarda) flower.

12. Bee balm


8 thoughts on “Night of the living echinacea

  1. “. . . just not one of my favorite flowers.”

    I struggled to regain my composure, get my blood pressure down, and strive for a view of the world not tinged by dark despair. In one short sentence a large part of my yearly flower photographs had been dismissed with a casual “meh!”

    Sure, there was some backtracking, and some redeeming photographs . . . but by then my day had acquired that off-kilter feel that will take some time to recover from.

  2. Pingback: My Favorite “Year of Pics” Photos So Far, from A to Z: Fourth Post «

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