July 13, 2010 at 1:03 am Leave a comment

Maybe you’re the kind of person who, when confronted with a sick coworker, immediately whips out a bottle of Echinacea supplement pills. As you place the bottle on your coworker’s desk to avoid contact with her pestilence-ridden hands, then nonchalantly back away until you reach the safety of your cubicle, you will probably have enough time to consider that you might’ve walked past a real live Echinacea plant on your way to work.

Echinacea is the genus name for a group of coneflowers. One of the most familiar species in the eastern half of North America is the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). It’s related to daisies and sunflowers, and it’s popular in city gardens.

The name Echinacea comes from the Greek word for spiny — note the flower’s spiny center. When I learned this, I thought, “Aha! That must be why spiny echidnas are called spiny echidnas.” I even started to see a tiny rolled-up echidna at the center of each coneflower. Sadly, the word echidna comes from a completely different Greek root. I still think it’s a good way to remember the plant’s name, even if your command of Greek is lacking.

How effective is Echinacea at fighting the common cold? Feel free to launch into the debate at the entertaining (and infuriating) Wikipedia Talk page for Echinacea. I’m much more interested in watching butterflies and bumblebees visit the city gardens where this flower grows in happy obscurity, unaware that the people passing by have bits of Echinacea in bottles in their purses.


Entry filed under: Herbaceous plants.

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