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Purple Coneflowers, Black-Eyed Susans and Michaelmas Daisies

Updated on June 5, 2016
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a science teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

A monarch butterfly on a purple coneflower, or Echinacea purpurea
A monarch butterfly on a purple coneflower, or Echinacea purpurea | Source

Beautiful Asters

The Aster family of plants is very large and contains some beautiful flowers. Three of my favourite members of the family are the purple coneflower, the black-eyed Susan and the Michaelmas daisy. They each produce a glorious splash of colour when they bloom. They are not only attractive plants but are also associated with some interesting facts.

The family Asteraceae (formerly Compositae) is commonly known as the aster, daisy or sunflower family. The name Compositae is appropriate because of the composite flower structure. What looks like one flower is actually an inflorescence made of many smaller flowers, or florets. The inflorescence is often known as a capitulum or a head. The flowers in the central disk of the capitulum are appropriately called disk florets. Each "petal" surrounding the disk is a ray floret.

A butterfly on a coneflower in a botanical garden
A butterfly on a coneflower in a botanical garden | Source

Every living thing has a scientific name consisting of two (or more) words. The first word of the name is known as the genus and the second word as the species. The genus is capitalized, but not the species. The entire name is printed in italics.

The Purple Coneflower

The ray flowers of the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) are white, pale pink or purple-pink in colour. The central disk is raised and domed. It looks like a spiny, dark orange or red cone. These features give the plant both its common and its scientific name. The name Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinus, which means hedgehog.

The purple coneflower is a perennial plant that is pollinated by insects. The flower is said to be a magnet for bees and butterflies, which I can believe, as least as far as bees are concerned. I often see a visiting bee on a flower. The ray florets of the flower are sterile, as they are in many members of the Aster family. The function of these florets is to attract insects. The disk florets contain stamens, which are the male reproductive structures, and a pistil, which is the female structure.

The fruits of purple coneflowers are known as achenes. An achene is a small, dry fruit that contains only one seed and doesn't open at maturity. Sunflower seeds are probably the most familiar example of achenes for many people. The "seeds" are really fruits that contain the seeds. The leaves of coneflowers are generally long, narrow and lance-shaped. They are usually toothed.

A bee on a purple coneflower
A bee on a purple coneflower | Source

There are generally considered to be nine species of wild Echinacea. They are native to the eastern part of North America. Many cultivars have been created for landscaping. The flowers bloom from mid to late summer.

Health Benefits of Echinacea

Echinacea has long had the reputation of helping to fight the common cold and of boosting immunity. It's very popular as a herbal health remedy. Three species are used medicinally, including E. purpurea. The flowers, leaves and roots are all used as medicines. The plant is sold as a tea, capsules, extract and tincture.

Echnacea is often promoted as a treatment for disorders of the upper respiratory tract, especially the common cold. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence for its health benefits is mixed. Some investigations suggest that the plant can reduce the risk of catching a cold or shorten a cold's duration. Others say that it has either a very minor effect or no effect at all on the common cold.

One problem in testing the effects of Echinacea may be the condition of the plant. The environment in which the plant is grown and the freshness of the plant may influence its medicinal properties. In addition, some parts of the plant may be more beneficial for health than others.

Cultivars of Purple Coneflower

Purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans are often grown next to each other in parks and landscaped areas. Their vibrant colours create a dramatic display. Both plants grow well in full sunlight and are drought resistant.

Black-eyed Susans in a botanical garden
Black-eyed Susans in a botanical garden | Source

The Black-Eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta and similar species) are flowers with rich and contrasting colours. The central disk is dark brown and the rays are golden-yellow. A large group of black-eyed Susans in bloom is both a cheerful and an inviting sight. The disk of each flower is domed, like that of a coneflower. Interestingly, Echinacea was once classified in the genus Rudbeckia.

Like many asters, black-eyed Susan grows in the wild and as a cultivated plant. As a wildflower, R. hirta is native to central and eastern North America. It's either a biennial plant or a short-lived perennial. In the first year of its life it grows a rosette of leaves. The leaves are lanceolate (long and lance-shaped with a pointed tip) or ovate. Some have teeth on their edges. The leaves and the flowering stems are covered by short, stiff hairs and are said to be hirsute.

In the second year of its life, the plant produces flowers. The plant blooms in the summer and early fall. The ray florets are sterile and the disk ones are fertile. The fruits are achenes. Occasionally, black-eyed Susans flower in the first year of their life.

A Delaware skipper butterfly on a black-eyed Susan flower
A Delaware skipper butterfly on a black-eyed Susan flower | Source

Black-eyed Susan is the state flower of Maryland. Its genus name (Rudbeckia) honours Olaus Rudbeck, a Swedish botanist. He was a teacher of Linnaeus, the scientist who gave us the binomial system of naming organisms scientifically.

How Did Black-Eyed Susan Get its Name?

The derivation of black-eyed Susan's name isn't known for certain, but it's thought to have come from a popular poem written by John Gay (1685-1732). The poem tells the story of Susan saying goodbye to her beloved William, who is about to set sail with the fleet. William returns Susan's affection and expresses his love and his regret that he must leave. The poem begins with the following stanza.

All in the Downs the fleet was moor'd,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-ey'd Susan came aboard;
‘Oh! where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’

Sweet William is another popular garden plant. It bears clusters of attractive flowers that are pink, red, or variegated in colour. It's also appreciated for its spicy scent. The derivation of its name is uncertain, but it didn't come from the poem above. In the past, the term "Sweet William" was commonly used in poems and songs for a man who was experiencing unrequited love.

Black-Eyed Susan in the Garden

Michaelmas is a festival that honours the Archangel Michael. He is said to have led the fight against Satan and played a role in the devil's expulsion from heaven. The name of the festival is a contraction of the words Michael and mass. It's pronounced "mickelmus".

Michaelmas

The Michaelmas daisy blooms well into the fall and is associated with the festival of the same name. Michaelmas is a Christian celebration that takes place on September 29th each year. It's held in honour of the Archangel Michael, sometimes known as Saint Michael, as well as the other angels. In the Anglican tradition, which is the most familiar one to me, the day is also known as the Feast of (Saint) Michael and All Angels.

Historically, Michaelmas had a meaning beyond its religious one. It was used as a marker in time and celebrated as a harvest festival. September 29th was close to both the start of the last quarter of the year and the autumn equinox. It was the time when rent was due and debts had to be paid. The date occurred during the period when the harvest was gathered and was accompanied by a celebratory meal.

A goose was a traditional part of the Michaelmas meal. Baked grain products and autumn fruits such as apples and blackberries were also eaten. Legend said that Michaelmas Day was the last day on which blackberries could be safely picked. The devil was said to have landed on a blackberry bush when he was thrown out of heaven. As a result, he cursed the plant - or in some versions of the legend spat or urinated on them - making the berries unfit for human consumption.

Cultivated Michaelmas daisies
Cultivated Michaelmas daisies | Source

The Michaelmas Daisy

Although some people may associate the word daisy with a flower with white petals and a yellow centre, this description doesn't always apply to the Michaelmas daisy. The disk florets are yellow to orange and the ray florets are white, pink, blue, purple or lilac, depending on the species or the cultivar. The intensity of the colour varies. Sometimes the flowers in a single clump have different colours. Unlike the case in the plants described above, the central disk of the daisy doesn't form a dome.

The term "Michaelmas daisy" refers to a number of species in the aster family that have a similar flower appearance. The scientific name of the European Michaelmas daisy is Aster amellus. It's a perennial plant with long and narrow leaves. The most common flower colour seems to be a shade of purple or lilac. The plant blooms in late summer and well into the fall. The fruit is an achene.

The flower colour and the late blooming time makes it easy to imagine why the daisy attracted people's attention at Michaelmas. The feast of St. Simon and St. Jude mentioned in the old rhyme below took place on October 28th.

The Michaelmas daisies, among dead weeds

Bloom for St. Michael's valorous deeds

And seem the last of flowers that stood

Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude

— Unknown (Traditional rhyme)

Michaelmas Daisies in Bloom

Flowers of Summer

The Aster family contains some wonderful species for a garden. Every summer, I look forward to the appearance of purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and Michaelmas daisies. Although I don't grow them myself, the plants are very popular in my local parks and botanical gardens and are easy for me to find. Observing these flowers and others plants in bloom is a very enjoyable part of the season.

© 2016 Linda Crampton

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 11 months ago from USA

      Black eyed Susans are among my favorites. I liked how how provided literary verses about the flowers.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Flourish. I'm looking forward to seeing the flowers in bloom this year.

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 11 months ago from Europe

      Wonderful article on these beautiful flowers. We grow them in our yard (I believe). I must admit I don't know as much as you about them, but I do recognize the Spanish daisy. :)

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing your experience, Buildreps.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love black-eyes Susans....we don't grow flowers on our urban farm....our saying is if you can't eat it then it doesn't belong here. LOL I do miss the beautiful colors, though.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Bill. Yes, the colours are beautiful. I enjoy looking at the flowers, even though they're used as ornamentsl plants instead of food.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 11 months ago from San Diego California

      I love the way you combined the natural history and the sources of the common names in this article. I love to watch bees and butterflies on blooms. Unlike some who work in my trade, I am not afraid of bees. I let them buzz around me at mailboxes as I go about my business and they go about theirs. Great hub!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Mel. I appreciate your visit and comment. I love your attitude towards bees, too! Like you, I enjoy watching bees and butterflies on flowers.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 11 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Very interesting and informative article about such lovely flowers!

      I love to grow flowers and seeing them blossomming day by day is such a delightful experience.

      You have provided wealth of information here and I enjoyed going through the details, beautiful pictures and the video!

      Thanks for sharing!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 11 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Educational and interesting as well as beautiful. Love the ancient poem about those black-eyed Susans. We have them here in Texas.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, ChitrangadaSharan. I enjoy growing flowers, too, as well as observing them outside my garden. I agree with you - watching them blossom is definitely delightful!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Peg. Thanks for the comment. Black-eyed Susans seem to be very successful plants!

    • profile image

      Larry Rankin 11 months ago

      Beautiful flowers and photos. Very informative.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Larry. As always, I appreciate your visit.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 11 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful photos and interesting facts on this topic. Flowers are important to nature.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Devika. Flowers are definitely a very important part of nature. I think that they're lovely to see, too!

    • profile image

      Perspycacious 11 months ago

      the combination of Echinacea and Goldenseal is said to hault the progression of some illnesses while triggering the immune system to attack the invaders. Testing has tended to confirm this sequence and explains the popularity of the combination in U. S. health stores such as ours.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the interesting information, Perspycacious. It would be nice to have an effective and natural medication containing Echinacea and goldenseal. I haven't yet found any scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of their combination, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't any. Herbalists may be right. I'll keep my eyes open for any news.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 11 months ago from Southern Oklahoma

      This was very interesting! I love all the information you gave on each of these flowers. I have cone flowers and black-eyed Susan both in my flower gardens. Now I know so much more about them, thank you! :)

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Sheila. I appreciate your visit and comment. I suspect that your flower gardens look lovely!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 11 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Linda,

      I used to pick large bouquets of the wild black-eyed Susan flowers in Wisconsin when I was a child giving them to my mother and grandmother. They grow wild in the fields here near Houston also. The cultivated ones are also often seen. This was such an enjoyable hub to read. Pinning to my flowers board.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 11 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I also shared it on my facebook page. :)

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Peggy! I appreciate the pin and the share very much. I'd love to see wild black-eyed Susans in real life. I see the cultivated forms every summer, but not the wild ones.

    • profile image

      Deb Hirt 11 months ago

      This was an easy read, filled with lots of information and filled with poignant data that just made me want to read on and on. Thanks for the great story, as I learned so much in such a fun manner.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 11 months ago from California

      Cornflowers are a particular favorite of mine--this was a beautiful hub Linda!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for such a lovely comment, Deb! I appreciate your kindness a great deal.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Audrey! I love all the flowers that I've described, but the purple coneflower is my favourite. I'm happy to see any of the three plants in bloom, though.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 11 months ago from England

      Beautiful hub and I loved the poem too. Love all the info, and the photos were so gorgeous!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Nell. The flowers are interesting to photograph and to study. They are a lovely sight.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 11 months ago

      I loved black eyed Susans very much as a child and planted some in our family flower garden. My other encouraged our love of flowers and this one brings me great memories. I use Echinacea to combat colds, it works for me. Enjoyed your post and photos.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the interesting comment and for sharing your experience with Echinacea, Dianna. In my family, it was my father who encouraged my love of garden flowers and nature. I appreciate his guidance very much.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 11 months ago from Dubai

      Interesting and informative article about the Purple Coneflowers, Black-Eyed Susans and Michaelmas Daisies. I like the Purple Coneflowers the most. Great photos of the flowers. Voted up.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Vellur. I appreciate your visit and comment.

    • Don Bobbitt profile image

      Don Bobbitt 3 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Another great article. Jus an aside for you. I and my wife travel around the US in our RV a lot and when we are in a campground, we always try to find a nice Nature Trail that we can use for our exercise and enjoyment.

      While in Yemassee, South Carolina, we found a few of these Cone Flowers blooming in the wild. I talked to a cousin of mine and she said that it is a cultivated flower, but that it can be found in the wild. I took a few pictures of the blooms for my photo collection of wildflowers we see.

      Thanks for the article,

      DON

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I appreciate your comment, Don. Thank you for sharing the interesting information about the flowers.

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