Plant Breeder, Spare That Coneflower!

Excuse me while I go on a little rant. This year’s plant catalogs are starting to arrive, which is generally a wonderful thing. However, some of those catalogs are touching a sore spot with me: namely, the never-ending supply of ugly and unnatural varieties of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

eccentric yellow

Exhibit one: ‘Eccentric Yellow’. This is a misnomer. How about ‘Grotesque Yellow’? Or ‘Useless Yellow’? Because all of the wildlife value has surely been extracted from this cultivar. Which is quite an accomplishment, since Purple Coneflower is one of the best perennials for birds and pollinators.

Let me be clear: I am not a purist. I plant cultivars in my garden, along with the straight species of many plants. And I love brightly-colored flowers. But there is something objectionable about cultivars that take such extreme liberties with the essential form and color of any plant.

green twister

Here’s another one, ‘Green Twister’. At least this one doesn’t have that ridiculous pompom at the center. But still, to my eye this variety is lurid and ugly.

Though I admit I am not really fond of green flowers in general. A green flower seems pointless to me. Green in a garden, we are told, allows us to rest our eyes from all the brightly-colored flowers. But if the flowers themselves are green, are eyes may become rested to the point of lethargy.

OK, I’m done. That’s all for now.

59 Comments on “Plant Breeder, Spare That Coneflower!”

  1. Frankly I think you’re missing one of the most important parts of this rant. These new echinacea cultivars are notoriously unstable and seem to lack hardiness. When the whole echinacea breeding thing really got going I fell for a lot of them and lost all of them, usually after one year. Others mysteriously reverted to a regular purple coneflower. Which, actually, is OK, other than the fact that I’d paid a lot of money for something I could have divided from my own garden.

  2. Rants are good. There is so much of this sort of scandal in the horticultural industries. I used to get samples of new varieties for trial until those sending the samples got tired of getting my ‘honest’ evaluations instead of the raves the expect from those who do not know better. I get the distinct impression that most modern varieties are designed for failure. Dying plants increase sales. Sustainability interferes with sales, even if it is a good sales pitch.

  3. I’m in agreement with Erin about hardiness. Sure that can be worked on but novelty before others brings in the quick cash.

    Something usually not discussed are the methods by which this new variation is “created”. It isn’t always by typical crosses. Since it isn’t food such matters are overlooked or selectively omitted from disclosure.

  4. This is slightly off topic because roses are such specialty flowers, and have been adapted and changed so many times, but one thing I hate to see are blue roses…invariably they look insipid…and when you think of all the glorious colours roses can be….why manufacture one as faded blue? (and why manufacture at all) and that’s the end of my rave!

  5. I dropped my membership with the Daylily Society because all I ever saw in their bulletins were horrid flowers that looked like they belonged in a deranged remake of Alice in Wonderland. As to the cornflowers, I quit buying them cause they never survived a Michigan winter.

  6. I am also not a fan of green flowers. They are so boring. Now that yellow thing is pretty to me but I am sure it has no healthful benefits for pollinators. I tried one of those pom pom cone flowers. It grew and flowered but I never saw a bug on it. ??? That makes it a non flower in my garden.

  7. It reminds me of the “white coneflower” seeds I purchased specifically to add VARIETY to my primarily pink & purple flower garden. Turns out, they *were* purple coneflowers… either someone mixed up the seed, or the original genes won the war …. I saw nary a white petal in the extremely prolific bunch! Nearly every seed germinated – ALL purple! Of course, they took two years to bloom before I realized I had a garden overrun with purplish-pink flowers. Haha!

    I was upset at first, but after giving them (and myself) time to settle into the idea, I made my peace with them in the garden; I purchased some white annual cosmos that fortunately bloomed white. The coneflowers, however, are the true showstoppers in late summer & early fall! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Green allows us to rest our eyes from all the brightly colored flowers?#?# I would say the brightly colored flowers give our eyes a rest (or vacation) from all the green leaves. Rant away Jason. We need more rants and less acceptance of the ridiculous.

  9. Want variety? Grow some Echinacea paradoxa AKA Yellow Purple Coneflower. Besides the unique color it has a very sweet fragrance. Originates from C. Missouri but is hardy in zone 3. Not a cultivar! I appreciated the rant.

  10. That yellow one is horrible but I will quietly say that I like the second one (no accounting for taste, I guess!). I do have both purple and white Echinacea in the garden (luckily they do very well here as they are all over 9 years old) and love them both. I’m also growing the multi-coloured Cheyenne Spirit from seed – started it last year so haven’t seen any blooms yet but I am looking forward to the hot colours and hopefully the pollinators will love it too.

  11. Ha! I thought the same thing this past week when looking through all the seed and plant catalogs sent to me every January. I don’t understand the appeal of the mutant-looking cultivars, as you said. Give me a good old-fashioned purple coneflower any day.

  12. Hahaha! Thanks for the good chuckle. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not a purist either, but I aim more toward the straight species, as much as possible, these days. So much more wildlife and pollinator value to the native, original plants. Too many new plants, weird colors and forms, and as the others have said, this trend really only benefits the sellers.

  13. Agree with you on this issue, whole heartedly. I don’t get it. None of the cultivars appeal to me, except for ‘White Swan’, and that’s only basically a biennial in my garden. It’s gorgeous with the pink ones but doesn’t last long for me at all. I don’t even like ‘Magnus’, because even though the petals are more horizontal, the color dulls much more quickly than the wild type. I found that out after getting seeds from the NC Botanical Garden and growing the wild type right next to ‘Magnus’. What a difference!

  14. Hello Jason, it’s obvious, looking from the gardening catalogues, that several species, including Echinacea, have been hugely cultivated to the point of being over-bred. You can usually tell an over-bred plant as it’s typically a gaudy colour and has huge flowers, or an impossible profusion of them. We stay away from them too because – as you say – the benefit to wildlife has been bred out, they can also be weaker, less hardy, disease prone and unstable.

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