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Hybridizers Wreck Havoc with Coneflower

Once on a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden I saw many varieties of Echinacea.

Today the Garden grows about ninety-three different cultivars of this popular native plant.

We know there has been a long history of hybridizing in the green industry for better quality flowers.

Today we also realize what havoc hybridizing can sometimes produce .


Systematic methods of hybridizing took off at the beginning of the twentieth century. That’s according to famed Cornell horticulturist and writer Liberty Hyde Bailey.

It was then that growers first went full steam ahead in search of the perfect hybrid flower for the garden industry.


Recently garden writer Adrian Higgins wrote an article in the Boston Globe called “Coneflower, beloved by bees and butterflies, put on trial.”

Purple Coneflower [courtesy of Bluestone Perennials]

Higgins had visited the Mount Cuba Botanical Garden near Wilmington, Delaware.

The Garden has evaluated seventy-five varieties, hybrids and species of the coneflower on such issues as length and abundance of bloom.

The coneflower is known as an outstanding pollinator in the garden.

He says of the study’s results, “The flower structures have mutated to a point where the rewards of pollen and nectar are reduced or absent.”

So if the goal of the hybridizer was to make a better coneflower, the success was limited.

Higgins says, “I like my purple coneflowers close to the species form.”

Meanwhile plant breeders probably continue to search for that illusive ‘better’ variety.

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