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(HOST) Commentator Charlie Nardozzi talks about the new colorful and fragrant coneflowers available for home gardeners to grow.

(NARDOZZI) They started as a prairie wildflower, gracing the grasslands of the Midwest for hundreds of years. At first, gardeners knew them as those “purple pincushion flowers” in wildflower mixes. They soon found their way into perennial gardens across the country. Then the medicinal herb craze hit in the 1990s, and these wildflowers were rediscovered for their cold- and flu-fighting properties.

Purple coneflowers, or Echinacea, are well loved as wildflowers, perennial garden flowers and medicinal herbs. These midsummer flowering gems are hardy to USDA zone 3, they adapt well to part and full sun conditions and they can tolerate low fertility soils.

The standard Echinacea purpurea has purple petals arranged around a red-orange center. There are white and yellow versions of coneflowers available as well. Now Echinaceas are being bred and crossed to create a variety of flower colors and shapes that even the buffalos wouldn’t recognize. Best yet, some of these new selections are fragrant.

Here’s a rundown of the latest varieties: Last year, orange was added to the flower color palette of Echinacea when the Chicago Botanic Garden introduced ‘Art’s Pride,’ also known as ‘Orange Meadowbrite’ Echinacea. I grew ‘Art’s Pride’ last year, and it did exhibit the same hardy habit as the traditional echinacea, but the petals were a vivid orange. This year, Chicago Botanic Garden is adding an even brighter orange variety to the line called ‘Mango Meadowbrite’.

It didn’t take long for other breeders to jump on the orange-flowered Echinacea bandwagon. Echinacea ‘Sunset’ produces 5-inch diameter orange flowers on 30-inch tall plants. Its cousin ‘Sunrise’ features golden flowers. The best aspect of ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset’ is they are both fragrant. Another sweet smelling Echinacea is ‘Fragrant Angel’. The 3-foot tall plants produce flowers that feature double layers of horizontal, white petals.

Echinacea’s flower shape is getting a makeover as well. ‘Razzamatazz’ is a double flowered purple coneflower. The flowers are so packed with petals it’s hard to even see the center brown cone. Echinacea ‘Doubledecker’ is a totally new twist in coneflowers. Plants produce a normal-shaped flower the first season, but the second year they produce a flower with two layers of petals. It looks like your standard Echinacea flower is wearing a derby hat.

Echinacea ‘Sparkler’ produces a slightly fragrant, light pink flower, but it’s the foliage that grabs your attention. The leaves are variegated green and white, and the frosted color holds up even in the heat. All these Echinaceas grow to about 30 to 36 inches tall.

Who’d have thought that the simple Echinacea would produce such a rainbow of flower colors and shapes?

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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