Echinacea in Europe: Species and Cultivars in Cultivation

Species

Echinacea purpurea cultivation represents nearly 65% of all Echinacea cultivated in Europe. It is the main species in Poland, Hungary, Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland, and the dominant species in Germany, Spain, and Switzerland.

The second most popular species, Echinacea pallida, is cultivated in 25% of the total Echinacea cultivation area. Nearly all areas of Echinacea cultivation in Italy are of this species (30 ha), with 20 ha in Germany. E. angustifolia is cultivated in about 10% of the total Echinacea area in Europe. It is the principal species in France, and commercial plantations of this species are found in Germany as well.

Because of their great biological activity, but less advantageous agronomic features, E. angustifolia and E. pallida presently are under intensive agronomic study.

Cultivars of Echinacea purpurea

As mentioned previously, Echinacea species have been grown for their ornamental value in Europe since the 18th century. About 10 garden varieties of Echinacea purpurea were in cultivation in Europe at least until 1960 (0).

E. purpurea has long been the focus of plant breeders who have found varieties within Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida have no breed varieties defined thus far. Although Echinacea originated in North America, the purple coneflower species (E. purpurea) is probably better appreciated in Europe than in the United States as a garden ornamental plant. Many of the cultivars traded at present were developed in Europe. German plant breeders have focused on developing cultivars with ray flowers that do not droop. Consumers see drooping petals as being diseased or wilted. Presently, seed companies offer varieties in various shades of red and white for which origin or breeder is not always known.

Red-Colored Cultivars

Red-colored cultivars, which comprise the biggest group of ornamental varieties or cultivars, are listed below.

German origin: Abendsonne, Auslese, Leuchtstern (carmine or deep reddish rays, large flower heads), Roter Sonnenhut (1999, Chrestensen Co.), Schleissheim, Verbesserte Leuchtstern, Bau-mannshof, Magnus (spreading ray flowers, Klaus Jelitto Co.).

English origin: Bressingham Hybrid (dark cone with bright rose ray flowers), New Colewall Strain (compact, 15- to 18-cm wide head with greenish bronze center), Earliest of All (pink-purple ray flowers).

American origin: Bravado (lavender pink color, 1994, Park Seed Co.), Ovation Pink (from Well-Sweep Herb Farm, 1994).

Indeterminate origin: These are marketed by several seed companies and are known as The King (bright crimson rays), Bright Star (rosy red rays with maroon center), Pink Flamingo, Sombrero (crimson-purple rays), Robert Bloom (compact, purple red), Starlight (1999, Exotic Garden Co., Sweden), Hybrida, Rubinstern, Zwaan Kleve, and Benary.

White-Colored Cultivars

The smaller group of coneflower cultivars has white rays and a flower with a green disk and orange petals. The white-flowered variations all have been found in the wild (Foster, 1991). Cultivars that can be obtained from seed companies include Alba, White Prince, White King, White Lustre, and White Swan (a dwarf cultivar by Thompson & Morgan Co., USA, 1987).

Cultivars for Medicinal Purposes

In contrast to the numerous ornamental varieties or cultivars, only a few varieties exist for medicinal use. Because of industrial requirements for high quality and standardized components of the chemical constituents of plant raw materials, efforts have been made to develop these important cultivars.

In a study published in 1992 in Germany, biomass production and quality of 10 ornamental varieties were checked for medicinal purposes from 1986 to 1988. The varieties were Baumanshof, Benary, Hybrida, Leuchestern, Magnus, Rubinstern, Schleisheim, Verb Leuchtester, Zwaan Kleve, and White Lustre. Results showed that all these varieties/provenances were qualified for medicinal use. The proposed provenances follow:

Herb, 1 year: Schleisheim, Hybrida, and Vebesserte Leuchstern

Herb, 2 years: Hybrida and Verbesserte Leuchestern

Root, 2 years: Rubinstern

Root and herb: Rubinstern and Verbesserte Leuchestern

The great variability of echinacoside and cicoric acid contents of the commercially available Echinacea species was established in a study on medicinal properties. In Hungary, a new selection of E. purpurea, cv. Indian, has been registered. The cultivar has 4- to 5-cm long, 0.5- to 0.6-cm wide purplish pink ray florets, leaning downward.

Because of common mistakes of plant identity and the adulteration of various Echinacea species, an analytical method has been developed for the fast chemical identification of Echinacea purpurea, specifically the root components. By this method, the identification of a sample can be carried out within 2 minutes using near infrared reflectance spectroscopy.

Bertalan Galambosi “Cultivation in Europe” (2004)