En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Friday - September 09, 2011

From: Arlington, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Plant identification
Answered by: Nan Hampton


In North Central Texas recommended plants, there are three coneflowers listed: Echinacea angustifolia-Black sampson E. purpurea-Purple coneflower E. purpurea-Eastern purple coneflower Is the Eastern purple coneflower by chance E. palida rather than E. purpurea?


Mr. Smarty Plants visited the Texas-North Central Recommended page to find only Echinacea angustifolia (Black sampson) and Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower) listed.  E. purpurea has both "Eastern purple coneflower" and "purple coneflower" listed as its common names.  Echinacea pallida (Pale purple coneflower) also has another common name listed—"pale coneflower", but E. pallida isn't on the Texas-North Central Recommended list.  So, I'm not exactly sure what you are asking.  Are you asking if we have the wrong common name associated with E. purpurea?  Should "purple coneflower" be used as the common name for E. pallida?  If that is what you are asking, there is an authority that dictates what the appropriate scientific/botanical/Latin names should be—the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature is the authority that sets the rules—but, for common names there is no authority.  The common names are determined by people who live in the region where the plants grow.  If the plant occurs over a large region, it's almost guaranteed to have more than one common name, especially if the language of the regions are different (e.g., Pluchea odorata (Saltmarsh fleabane or sweetscent) has the common name of "Santa Maria" in Mexico but its botanical name is Pluchea odorata everywhere).  To complicate things even more, common names can refer to two (or even more) totally different plants.  An example for this is Smilax pumila (Sarsaparilla vine) which also has the common names of "wild sarsaparilla," "dwarf Smilax," and "dwarf greenbrier."  This plant is in the Family Liliaceae (Lily Family).  Not only is Aralia nudicaulis (Wild sarsaparilla), which shares the same common name as Smilax pumila, a completely different plant, it is even in a completely different family—the Family Araliaceae (Ginseng Family).  So, if you are asking if we have given the common name "purple coneflower" to the wrong plant, who can really say for sure?   Some people may call E. pallida "purple coneflower" while others call E. purpurea by that name.

Now, it is possible that you are asking if E. pallida should be on the Texas-North Central Recommended list instead of E. purpurea.  You can see by the Texas distribution maps from the USDA Plants Database for each (E. pallida and E. purpurea) that neither is widely distributed over North Central Texas.  E. pallida does have a slightly larger distribution, but they have both been cultivated and grow well there.  According to Joe Marcus, at the Wildflower Center:

"The lists were compiled of native plant species that are both native to a given area and can be found in the nursery trade.  So while Echinacea pallida is known to occur in North Texas, the list compilers could find no nurseries in that area that offered it for sale."

This, no doubt, is why they included E. purpurea and E. angustifolia, but not E. pallida.

Finally, if you are questioning the fact that there are two common names by E. purpurea, then I will point out that many of the plants on the list have multiple names.  For instance, E. angustifolia (Black Sampson) is also called "Black Samson echinacea" and "Narrow-leaf Coneflower."


From the Image Gallery

Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

Pale purple coneflower
Echinacea pallida

Black samson
Echinacea angustifolia

More Herbs/Forbs Questions

Potential allelopathy of cultivar of Artemisia ludoviciana
March 09, 2009 - I recently submitted a question regarding allelopathic potential of artemisia ludoviciana on rusty blackhaw viburnum, not specifying that I meant Vibernum rufidulum. Mr. SP interpreted my viburnum as...
view the full question and answer

Copper Canyon daisy leaves turning yellow in Spring Branch TX
September 01, 2010 - My Copper Canyon daisies have grown well this year but the leaves are turning yellow. Any ideas?
view the full question and answer

Failure to come up of blackeyed susans in Lancaster PA
June 28, 2009 - My blackeyed susans have been blooming for ten years. All of a sudden this year they didn't come up at all..why?
view the full question and answer

Low Ground Cover for Steep, Shaded PA Site
February 17, 2014 - I am located in Downingtown, PA, right on the border between Zone 6 and 7. Please provide a recommendation of a native ground cover for the following conditions: steep slope (greater than 45%), full s...
view the full question and answer

Will Canada geese eat Asclepias tuberosa from Cape May Court, NJ
May 20, 2014 - Will Canada geese eat my butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)? I know this plant is deer resistant. I really want to plant some on sandy bank near pond in my back yard, but I fear the geese will ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center