Arbor Gate's Picks of the Month
Echinacea or Coneflower
Familiar to most gardeners as a bold and colorful bloomer or promoted as an aid to fend off colds, echinacea is also recognized as a great attractor of pollinators.
To fulfill that purpose, grow it in one or two large clumps rather than dispersed small plantings. The nectar and pollen rich flowers are especially appealing to butterflies, like skippers and swallowtails, and to bees. They also appeal to hummingbirds–not for the nectar, which hummers usually obtain from reddish flowers with long corolla tubes, but rather for all of the insects that they attract. Insects are the main source of protein for hummingbirds. [According to Thomas G. Barnes at the University of Kentucky, a female ruby-throat can capture up to 2000 insects per day.
Another bird drawn to Echinacea is the American goldfinch. Again, it is not the nectar that beckons, but rather the seed. So, although deadheading will prolong blooming, refrain from cutting back late summer or fall flowers. This way seed heads will form, providing both winter food and winter interest.
Echinacea is a sterling example of how herbs in the garden provide a highly diversified environment that attracts birds as well as beneficial insects. With blooms in a variety of colors, the coneflower creates drama and interest in every garden.