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Two cone shaped flowers with pink petals in the foreground with several similar specimens blurred in the background
Information icon Smooth coneflower at a power-line right of way in Granville County, NC. Photo by Caroline S. Krom, USFWS.

Smooth Coneflower

Echinacea laevigata

Previously Used Scientific Names: Echinacea purpurea (Linnaeus), Moench var. laevigata (C. L. Boynton & Beadle) Cronquist

Smooth coneflower is a perennial herb that will live for more than two years. It is not to be confused with its close relative and commercially available purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, both within the Asteraceae/Compositae (aster) family. Echinacea is a group of herbaceous flowering plants with nine species, known as coneflowers for their iconic high dome, or cone-shaped seed head. Smooth coneflower is a sun-loving herb that depends on periodic fires to reduce the shade and competition of woody plants.

Appearance

Smooth coneflower is a perennial herb in the Aster family (Asteraceae) that grows up to 3.3 feet tall from a vertical root stock. The large leaves may reach eight inches in length and three inches in width and taper into long leafstalks toward the base. They are smooth to slightly rough in texture.

Smooth coneflower is a composite, a cluster of flowers grouped together to form a single flower-like structure. Smooth coneflower has narrow, drooping, light pink to purplish petals that emerge rolled and appear string-like. The petals look droopy shortly after the flowers open.

The protruding spike-like flowers that make-up the flower head or seed head give the genus Echinacea its name, from the Greek word echinos, which means spiny or prickly. The smooth coneflower can be distinguished from its most similar relative, the purple coneflower by its leaves, which in the smooth coneflower are elliptical, and never heart-shaped, like those of the purple coneflower. Also, in purple coneflower, the ray flowers are more perky, not droopy like smooth coneflower.

Habitat

Smooth coneflower is typically found in open woods, glades, cedar barrens, roadsides, clearcuts, dry limestone bluffs, and power line rights-of-way, usually on magnesium and calcium rich soils associated with amphibolite, dolomite or limestone (in Virginia), gabbro (in North Carolina and Virginia), diabase (in North Carolina and South Carolina), and marble (in South Carolina and Georgia). Smooth coneflower occurs in plant communities that have been described as very dry hardpan forests, diabase glades or dolomite woodlands. Optimal sites are characterized by abundant sunlight and little competition in the herbaceous layer.

Reproduction

Smooth coneflower reproduces both sexually by seed and asexually by rhizomatous growth. One rhizome can produce multiple rosettes, which can divide and become viable plants. With sexual reproduction, flowering occurs from late May through mid July and fruits develop from late June to September. The disk is a cluster of flowers that are pollinated by bees and butterflies. Each flower develops into dry one-seeded fruits which are dispersed by seed-eating birds and mammals. The fruiting structures often persist through the fall.

Historic range

The reported historical range included Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas. When the plant was classified as endangered on October 8, 1992, it was known to survive only in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The plants known from Alabama and Arkansas were determined to be misidentifications and the plants from Maryland and Pennsylvania were determined to be waifs, or non-natural populations.

Current range

Smooth coneflower currently occurs in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Populations occur in central VA, NC, SC and northeast GA
Smooth coneflower distribution. Map by USFWS.

Counties

Virginia

  • Alleghany
  • Amherst
  • Botetourt
  • Campbell
  • Franklin
  • Halifax
  • Montgomery
  • Nottoway (historic in this county)
  • Pulaski
  • Roanoke (historic in this county)
  • Wythe (historic in this county)

North Carolina

  • Durham
  • Granville
  • Mecklenburg
  • Montgomery (historic in this county)
  • Orange (historic in this county)
  • Rockingham (historic in this county)

South Carolina

  • Aiken
  • Allendale
  • Anderson (historic in this county)
  • Barnwell
  • Lancaster (historic in this county)
  • Oconee
  • Pickens (historic in this county)
  • Richland

Georgia

  • Evans
  • Habersham
  • Stephens

Conservation challenges

Smooth coneflower is threatened by fire suppression and habitat destruction resulting from highway construction, residential and commercial development, as well as maintenance activities in roadside and utility rights of way.

Fire suppression

Without fires, the woody plant species create shade and compete for space and nutrients and limit the growth of smooth coneflower.

Highway right-of-way maintenance

Herbicide application or mowing from May through September, during flowering and fruiting stages, sets back the plants’ ability to thrive in the wild.

Collection/poaching

While some species are collected and sold for medicinal purposes, others are collected for horticultural uses. The Service does not believe overcollection of this species is a danger to populations at this time. Collections used for research are permitted by the Service and are limited to quantities of plant parts that are believed to be insignificant and will not jeopardize any population.

Urbanization

Development may reduce available habitat for the plant.

Encroachment by invasive species

Invasive plant species encroachment threatens some smooth coneflower populations, especially those located on highway rights of ways or in utility line easements such as power lines. These disturbed habitats often include non-native species, some of which can become invasive. Roadside and powerline right of way sites may be threatened by invasive plants such as: Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneatea), Shrubby lespedeza (Lespedeza bicolor), Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) and Autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata).

A non-native longhorn beetle (Hemierana marginata) was identified at some smooth coneflower populations in North Carolina. This beetle chews into the flowering stem and causes flowers to die before producing viable seeds.

Small population size

Inadequacy of existing protection afforded by State laws

Smooth coneflower is listed as state endangered in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. State laws do not prohibit the destruction of populations on private land or otherwise mandate protection. State prohibitions against taking are difficult to enforce and do not cover alterations of habitats due to lack of management.

Recovery Plan

Download the 1995 recovery plan.

Partnerships, research and projects

Many populations are currently protected by a variety of federal, state and private conservation entities.

  • US Forest Service – Chattahoochee (GA) and Jefferson and Washington (VA)
  • Army – Ft. Stewart (GA), Ft. Jackson (SC)
  • US Dept. of Energy, Savannah River Site
  • US Army Corps of Engineers
  • GA Department of Natural Resources
  • NC Plant Conservation Program
  • SC Heritage Trust Program
  • VA Division of Natural Heritage
  • The Nature Conservancy (Virginia Chapter)

North Carolina

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is the designated Center for Plant Conservation for smooth coneflower. They currently maintain seeds from 37 occurrences for long-term conservation of genetic material to be used for research and reintroduction projects. In addition, they also have several live plants that are used for educational purposes and are conducting experimental reintroductions on land owned by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A small trial of 112 individuals was planted at Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve (near Durham, North Carolina) in 2004. Approximately 75% of the individuals have survived to date and recruitment of new individuals was observed for the first time in 2009, when at least 74 year-one plants were observed. A larger experiment was started at Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve in 2007 to compare the success of introducing one year old plants vs. directly sowing seeds in the field.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, the U.S. Forest Service restored a population at a site called Longnose from seed collected from the Pine Mountain site, less than one mile away.

Georgia

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia has been propagating smooth coneflower since 1999 for reintroduction onto the Chattahoochee National Forest and for educational gardens at their gardens in Athens, Georgia and at Tallulah Gorge State Park. Two additional education gardens are being planned, one at the USFS Visitor Center in Clayton, Georgia and one at Stephens County, Georgia. Also, the Atlanta Botanical Garden cultivates this plant for educational purposes.

Subject Matter Experts

Designated Critical Habitat

Critical Habitat has not been designated for this species.

More information

Federal register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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