GARDEN TIP: Saving Purple Coneflower Seeds

Post last updated: October 26th, 2018

Echinacea blooms-1769

Have I got a great gardening tip for you Purple Coneflower fans!  First, if you don’t have coneflowers in the garden, you might want to consider them because the butterflies preferred them to all other butterfly nectar in my garden.

All of my coneflowers were grown from seed. I started with seed packets picked up in seed displays.  All of the seeds were Echinacea purpurea (the botanical name for one species of coneflowers) or improved versions under that name. I planted the seeds in the spring/summer of 2012 and this summer they bloomed.

Learn from one of my many mistakes in the garden:  pay attention to the botanical name on your seed packets. The second botanical name such as Echinacea purpurea can be planted with Echinacea atrorubens or Echinacea paradoxa without fear of cross pollination. However, if you plant several varieties of purpurea together, they will cross. Another species, Echinacea tennesseensis may be a subspecies of purpurea and cross pollination with other tennesseensis and purpureas may happen.

I didn’t know any of this when I planted all of my purpureas together so there is no telling what kind of flowers I will get from all the seeds I have saved in 2013. Sigh. Another failure of the “stoopit’ variety. I once took a local gardening class led by Victoria Freeman who suggested that “when you have a failure, rename it.” Can you imagine the trouble that would create for people like me with memory issues? I can’t remember the stuff I need to remember. Adding a multitude of renamed failures would unravel me.

I should mention that I also learned, via research, that the newer, wild colored hybrids should be bought as plants and multiplied via root expansion or division. Their seeds may not produce “true” when grown out as plants. In other words, you may not get that wild color again.

Some gardeners insist that you must leave the seed cone on the stalk, near the end of the growing season, and allow it to turn brown to black before collecting the cone. I didn’t like this idea because (1) I didn’t want the birds to beat me to the seeds, and (2) I wanted to save seeds from the biggest flowers during the entire season. According to Garden Smart and William Cullina, Plant and Garden Curator of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, “the seed is ripe when the cone dries out … and the bristles turn dark brown and rather sharp and spiny.” I’m going to go with that until I am proven wrong by experimentation. In other words, I harvested the cones as they started to dry out on the plant and then left them in a clay pot on the porch to finish drying out.

Okay, the Garden Tip. Tonya Fennig publishes a Facebook page called The Seed Exchange and shared a way to save one’s fingers from getting poked by the spiny head of the cones.

After collecting the seed cones, take a large darning needle to gently pluck away at the cone.

Echinacea w darning needle-165-2
Photo credit: Tonya
Photo credit: Tonya
Photo credit: Tonya

I found that I had to dig a little, at the top of the cone stem, to get things started. First, the needle was digging out a dark brown thing that looks like a seed but is only chaff (bottom right of photo). Later, I was getting a few of those same brown things with the seed attached (upper right of photo). Finally, the yellowish-tan seeds shaped like an arrowhead began spilling from the seed cone (bottom left of photo).

Seeds, seeds with chaff still attached, chaff
Seeds, seeds with chaff still attached, chaff

Make sure to get as many of the seeds as you can (to share with your friends) and then toss the seed cone into your flower garden as winter food for the birds, who will find all the seeds you missed.

Tonya says the darning needle method might not be the correct way to separate the seeds but I’m telling you, it worked for me!

6 thoughts on “GARDEN TIP: Saving Purple Coneflower Seeds”

  1. I do hope I am one of your friends you intend to share these seeds with. 🙂
    I love butterflies. I also love the cone flower colors but I always have the urge to put something under the flower to make it stand out not droop down. Maybe I could make little “dog cones” like the ones a vet uses on a dog’s neck to keep it from licking a wound. That might work, you think??

    1. DOG CONES around your coneflowers? I do hope you are pullin’ my laig. I’ll admit some of mine fell over but a whole bunch of ’em didn’t. You can always use a bamboo stake and a little piece of green yarn. I’m not giving you any seeds. I’m gonna grow the plants for you.

  2. I just use the very scientific method of taking a whole seed pod from one of the biggest plants and squashing it down into the soil. Plants will grow. Miss Billie used to yank a plant that had gone to seed from her garden bed, hand it over with instructions, “Here, cut this back and plant it. It will grow.” I divided the plants and sure enough….

    1. Do you mean to tell me, Nell Jean, that Tonya and I have been working at this too hard? Then again, we like to swap seeds with other gardeners and it’s kind of hard to mail an entire cone head. I went to your blog and looked up Miss Billie but I found only one article where she was mentioned. I want to hear more about her.

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