Tennessee purple coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis)

Synonyms: Echinacea angustifolia tennesseensis
GenusEchinacea (1)
SizeHeight: up to 75 cm (2)
Flower diameter: up to 8 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants 1997 (1) and listed as Endangered on the U.S. Endangered Species Act 1967 (3).

Vivid pink to purplish flowers crown the stems of this perennial herb (4), adorning the plant with colour from mid-spring until mid-autumn (2). Unlike the flowers of other coneflowers (Echinacea), which have backward-drooping petals, the splayed petals of this species are upturned, giving the flower a cup-like appearance (2) (5). Distinctively hairy, dark green leaves crowd around the lower stems (2) (4).

As its common name implies, this coneflower is endemic to Tennessee, U.S., where it is limited to five sites within an approximate 170 km² area of the Central (Nashville) Basin (6).

This plant grows in cedar glades, rocky areas with exposed bedrock or very shallow soil, where trees are largely unable to grow. However, red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) occurs in the margins of the glades or in cracks in the bedrock where the roots can gain a foothold, giving these glades their common name (4) (6). The Tennessee purple coneflower will not usually grow where there is more than 50 percent shade (4).

Flowers appear as early as mid-May, and may last as late as October, with flowering reaching a peak during June and July (4). Reproduction is by cross-pollination with other plants, and pollination is performed by insects such as bumblebees (Bombus), honeybees (Apismellifera) and butterflies (6). The Tennessee purple coneflower apparently has quite ineffective seed dispersal methods, which limit the plant’s ability to colonise new areas (4).

The greatest threat facing the Tennessee purple coneflower is destruction or alteration of its habitat as a result of commercial, residential, or industrial development, road-building, intensive livestock grazing, encroaching vegetation, and off-road vehicle use (7). Over-collection for the plant’s ornamental and perceived medicinal qualities poses an additional threat (4). Although there are many suitable glades in Middle Tennessee, this plant appears to be restricted to just a few due to its poor colonisation ability. Being shade intolerant means that it is difficult for the Tennessee purple coneflower to get past the tree-lined margins of the glades. It is also restricted by being self-sterile and reliant on other plants to reproduce (6). Thus, the Tennessee purple coneflower’s limited ability to colonise new areas makes the protection of its current sites all that more important (4).

Populations on state-owned land are managed by the Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation and/or the Tennessee Division of Forestry (6). The Nature Conservancy has also purchased two sites supporting the species (7). Private landowners have generally been sympathetic to the conservation needs of the Tennessee purple coneflower (4), and several agreements have been made (or negotiations are currently underway) with the owners to preserve the plants found on their land (6). This species is easily propagated and new populations have been established (6). The plant is also growing in a number of home gardens and has been transplanted to the Cheekwood Botanic Garden and the Warner Nature Center, both in Nashville (4). Studies into the Tennessee purple coneflower’s biology are ongoing, and important findings are helping inform management plans for preserving this colourful plant and its unique habitat (7).

For more information on the Tennessee purple coneflower, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. Walter, K.S. and Gillett, H.J. (1998) 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. IUCN (The World Conservation Union), Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  2. Wildflowers of the southeastern U.S. (July, 2006)
  3. U.S. Endangered Species Act (June, 2006)
  4. U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service - Division of Endangered Species (September, 2008)
  5. Goodwin Creek Gardens (July, 2006)
  6. Walck, J.L., Hemmerly, T.E. and Hidayati, S.N. (2002) The Endangered Tennessee Purple Coneflower, Echinacea tennesseensis (Asteraceae): Its Ecology and Conservation. Native Plants Journal, 3(1): 54 - 64. Available at:
  7. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (July, 2006)