Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Friday, July 17, 2015

Echinacea purpurea is the butterflies' favorite plant in the garden this week

As I was out taking photos for GBBD and Foliage Follow-up this week, I kept seeing western tiger swallowtails and other butterflies flitting from blossom to blossom. Ironically, I don't have any photos of the swallowtails, because they never stood still long enough for me to get a good shot. But here's what I did mange to photograph:

The echinaceas are one of the biggest butterfly draws right now, though I just stepped outside to turn off some water I had running and saw a silver-spotted skipper visiting the early heathers and lime thyme. The one photographed below was very intent on the echinacea, though.


 The identity of these little brown skippers eluded me. I couldn't see any markings, just an even, slightly golden, brown. Maybe someone who knows butterflies will see this and help me out.

The most cooperative pollinator was this one. I believe it's a female Leto fritillary. The first picture is actually from another day, but shows the upper wings better than any I took this week.

Leto fritillary and the anonymous brown skipper, drinking contentedly from the coneflowers.

I didn't see the bumblebee when I took this photo, but it turned out to be a great shot of a bumblebee in flight with the Leto fritillary continuing to sip from the echinacea. Even if I moved in close and scared it away, it came right back. No one was going to keep this butterfly from enjoying its meal, except maybe a hungry bird. Was that a shadow overhead just now?... Just kidding!

This might sound strange, but I'm actually not a huge fan of echinacea myself. They're pink and they're daisies, two strikes against them in my view (which I'll admit to being completely arbitrary and abnormal). But in the old days (which ended about a month ago), when voracious deer made me desperate to try anything, I got these echinacea for cheap from my college horticulture club. I have three varieties: 'Magnus', Primadonna Deep Rose, and Powwow Wildberry. At least the first one has a real, sensible cultivar name. The second and third are trademark names, Primadonna and Powwow, followed by an individual marketing name, Deep Rose and Wildberry. The true cultivar name of Powwow Wildberry is the alluring 'Pas702917', but who would buy Echinacea purpurea 'Pas702917'? And who wants to make the effort to think up a cultivar name that is an actual word when you can slap a number on it and hire marketing specialists to come up with a trade name that you can recycle with another plant once the patent on the first plant expires? (Don't mind the crazy person ranting about trade names. He rents some space in my head and gets a bit ornery and unhinged when he hears words like "registered trademark" in the context of plant names. You'll hear him from time to time knocking about upstairs. He's mostly harmless.)

While I'm not a huge fan, I don't hate them either, and the bees and butterflies love them so much that I just don't think I can ever justify getting rid of them. Well, except maybe Primadonna Deep Rose. It really doesn't perform as well as the other two.

 The difference between the other two varieties, however, is striking. Here's 'Magnus', a reliable old variety with large flowers on a large plant. Take note of the grey label at the base of the plant.

Powwow Wildberry is a fraction of the size! Again, take note of the grey label, which is the same size as the one in the previous picture. This echinacea is suitable for the front of the border or any small area with full sun where you don't want big old Magnus blocking the view.

Here's a flower of 'Magnus' on the right with Powwow Wildberry on the left for comparison. The flowers of the latter are only about two thirds the size of the former, and the petals are more reflexed making them point down. The color of Powwow is also a little bit deeper than 'Magnus'.

The specs on Echinacea purpurea:

  • Hardy in USDA zones 3-8
  • Height 2-3 feet (Powwow Wildberry is only a little over 1 foot tall)
  • Blooms June to August (end of June in my garden this year, usually not until July though)
  • Full sun to part shade
Echinacea requires little if any supplemental water in my climate, at least when grown in well-drained clay soil. I did have it growing on the west side of the house in loose silty/sandy soil that came from who-knows-where and they would droop a bit in summer on really hot afternoons. Tolerates pretty much any soil as long is it isn't waterlogged in winter.

My favorite plant in the garden is hosted by Loree of Danger Garden. Check in at the end of the month to see her favorites and those of other garden bloggers. And maybe this month I'll remember to do a round-up of favorites at the end. 

11 comments:

  1. The butterflies and bees love the species Echinacea in my garden, they are all over them, and I love them too. They've also been pretty drought-tolerant, more than the Rudbeckia that is planted in the same bed. For short Echinacea, my favorite is one called 'After Midnight,' with dark stems and a darker cone. I'm planning to get more next year (or maybe this fall, we'll see if my enthusiasm for digging holes holds up).

    Great shots here of the butterflies, and the one of the bee in flight!

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    1. I'm planning to track down Echibeckia, the Echinacea x Rudbeckia hybrids, to try because they are supposedly tough like echinaceas but come in oranges, browns, and yellows like rudbeckias. I hope fall renews your enthusiasm.

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  2. So you went on a little rant, so what. Need to let off steam every now and again. We are here for you.
    I side with Alison and the butterflies on this: I love my Echinacea. It's reliable and drought tolerant, our new criteria these days. If only you bought the orange variety like me...

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    1. What orange variety do you have? I tried a white one and a red, and neither did well for me, unlike the pik ones. So many hybrids were released without thorough testing. I guess I chose the duds.

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    2. I dug up the tag.
      On the front is says: Echinacea purpurea Sombrero™ Hot Coral.
      On the back it says: Echinacea purpurea 'Balsomcar' (a name with yielded little on google), and then PPAF, US7, 982, 110.

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    3. Thanks, Chav! The name in single quotes is the actual cultivar name, the one on the front is just a marketing name, but that's the one everyone uses and most people think that's the real cultivar name.

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  3. Those are wonderful butterfly and bee shots, Evan. I do love Echinacea but they're not reliable perennials here. I planted quite a number of them last year (both 'Magnus' and some of the newer introductions) but only a few have come back and those are wimpy. I'm sticking with the Gaillardia to keep the bees happy.

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    1. Even the red, orange, and yellow hybrids? Those are made with less hardy species that seem like they should do better in California than the PNW. Then again, so many were released without proper testing to see if they were really garden-worthy.

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  4. Hmmm...I have no Echinacea here, but I am drawn to the orange ones and they seem less vigorous than the pink. I'm all for butterflies, so maybe it's time to try again.

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    1. I like the orange ones, too. Hopefully they're more vigorous than 'Tomato Soup'. That cultivar was a total flop for me. The swallowtails really like my crocosmia, too.

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  5. Great butterfly and bee shot! So, Evan, how long have you been hearing these voices in your head?

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