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Echinacea cultivar evaluation in southwest Mississippi.

Echinacea species grown as medicinal plants are a potential economic crop for farmers in Mississippi. Field experiment was used to compare the survival, growth, and mineral composition of E. angustifolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea. This evaluation was repeated during the following growing season with Echinacea plants that overwintered. The two-year study was conducted on a Memphis silt loam soil in southwest Mississippi. Plant survival during the 1999 growing season was highest for E. purpurea and lowest for E. angustifolia. During the 2000 growing season, percent of shoot regrowths from mature plants allowed to overwinter in 1999 was highest for E. angustifolia and lowest for E. purpurea early in the spring but was not different at the end of that growth period. Both root and shoot developments were generally highest for E. purpurea and E. pallida during both growth periods compared to E. angustifolia. Macronutrient levels were generally highest for E. purpurea and E. pallida, respectively. Research resul ts indicate that these Echinacea species will grow to maturity and flower during the first year of growth in southwest Mississippi. However due to E. angustifolia low germination rate, poor seedling growth in the greenhouse, and very low survival rate in field plot after transplanting, it is the least desirable of the three species. Both E. purpurea and E. pallida are recommended for production in southwest Mississippi at this time.

Keywords: Echinacea species, medicinal plants, survival, growth, mineral composition.


The State of Mississippi is known for its agricultural products. Its mild climate, long growing season, and adequate rainfall are ideal for the production of agronomic crops such as cotton, soybean, corn, and rice. However, for some of these crops production has exceeded demand, thus depressing prices below the level of profitability. Therefore, compelling reasons exist for farmers to consider diversification of crops grown and to produce them in more sustainable cropping systems.

Echinacea is one of the alternative crops being evaluated for adaptation, yield potential, and quality at Alcorn State University. It belongs to the Asteraceae or daisy family, which has daisy-like flowers aggregated into tight heads and leaves that are either opposite or alternate, simple or compound (Stuart, 1982). Although there are up to nine Echinacea species, all native to North American prairies, the three main species used for medicinal purposes are E. angustifolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea (Still, 1994). These species can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3-10 which extend from upper Midwest to Florida (Adam, 2000), especially when annual precipitation is from 30 cm to 81 cm per year. Echinacea species is considered the most effective detoxicant in Western medicine for the circulatory, lymphatic, and respiratory systems. It is a bitter, slightly aromatic, alternative herb that stimulates the immune system, promotes healing and has antiviral and antibacterial effects. It is used internally for skin diseases, fungal infections, boils, abscesses, slowhealing wounds, upper respiratory tract infections, and venereal diseases (Bauer and Wagner, 1991; Brown, 1995; and Chevallier, 1996). In Europe, materials isolated from E. purpurea are believed to relieve prostatic problems and other urinary ailments (Weiss, 1998).

Echinacea production promises to be an increasingly profitable business. Prices per pound of dry root cross sections for E. angustifolia, E pallida, and E. purpurea are $21.00, $14.50, and $14.00 respectively (San Francisco Herb and Natural Food Co., 2002). However, the growth of Echinacea fanning has been rather slow due to time and labor involved in growing and marketing the crop. Cultivation of some herb species is difficult due to slow seed germination and lack of cultural information (Galambosi, 1992). In addition, as result of the increased utilization of medicinal plants for healthcare, destructive harvesting threatens their sustainability. Cultivation techniques for commercial production needs to be established to prevent the future loss of native Echinacea species. Smith-Jochum and Albrecht (1987) noted that raising seedlings indoors and transplanting them to field plots in spring resulted in better growth than direct-seeded plants.

Some agronomic studies have indicated that fertilization can increase production and accumulation of secondary metabolites in plants (Jain, 1990). Fields pretreated with organic and inorganic fertilizers significantly increased Espinheira Santa (M. aquifolium Mart) plant height, stem diameter, and the number of leaves and branches, but levels of triterpenes and total phenols were not affected (Pereira et al., 1995). However, monoterpenes which have the same initial steps of the biosynthetic route of triterpenes were influenced by fertilizer application (Bordoloi et al., 1985). Herb growth was enhanced by such organic fertilizers as compost, alfalfa meal, bone meal, cottonseed, and dehydrated manure (Felty, 1981).

Because most herbs are poor competitors, weeds cause significant yield reductions by directly competing with herbs for water, nutrients, and light (Rao and Singh, 1985). Many organic horticultural operations rely on manual labor and a combination of mulching/cultivation for adequate weed control. Bhella (1988) reported that black polyethylene mulch leads to rapid tomato plant growth and an earlier first harvest due to the soil warming effects of radiation absorbed by the mulch.

This study was undertaken to investigate three Echinacea species for their potential as an alternative crop for Mississippi farmers.


A field study initiated in the summer of 1999 was used to determine Echinacea seedling survival, plant growth and mineral composition. This study was conducted on a Memphis silt loam (Fine silty, mixed thermic; Typic Hapludalfs) soil at Alcorn Experiment Station. A randomized complete block (RCB) experiment design with four replications of each of the three Echinacea species (treatments) was used.

Soil extractable nutrient levels, soil reaction, and soil organic matter were determined before the initiation of the study in 1999 and at the end of the study in 2000. Soil samples collected at 0-20 cm soil depth were analyzed for phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, soil reaction, and soil organic matter content. Cations were analyzed by atomic absorption spectrometry, soil reaction by barium chloride-triethanolamine method, and organic matter by wet and dry combustion techniques.

Field preparation included plowing, disking, and bedding. Each bed (6.1 m long and 1.5 m wide) was planted with five rows of either E. purpurea, E. pallida or E. angustifolia species at a 0.3 m x 0.3 m plant spacing. Bone meal fertilizer applied at the rate of 2.3 kg per bed was incorporated into the soil at bed preparation. Seedlings at 3-leaf stage were raised in Pro Mix Bx[R] (Premier Horticulture, Inc. Red Hill, PA), a blend of Canadian sphagnum peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and dolomitic and calcitic limestone, with a pH range of 5.0 to 7.0, in the greenhouse and transplanted into rows on July 14, 1999. Response 9-9-7[R] (Ag/Response, Inc. Naples, FL), a seaweed extract prepared by mixing 1 part of extract in 500 parts of water was applied at the rate of 0.24 liter per plant a week later to enhance bone meal fertilizer absorption. Natural rainfall was supplemented with overhead sprinkler irrigation as needed. Weed control was achieved with pine bark mulch and hand pulling. Plots were free from insect and disease problems hence, pesticide was not used.

On August 1, and November 11, 1999, Echinacea species were evaluated for survival, and the percent of the total transplanted per bed was reported for each species. Following the second evaluation for plant survival, three plants randomly selected from each bed were used for data collection on canopy height, canopy width, stem diameter, shoot dry weight, root length, root dry weight, and plant mineral composition. Plants used for data collection on growth parameters were limited due to low survival for all species, especially E. augustifolia.

Canopy height was a measure of the distance from the soil level to the highest point of the plant under its natural stand. Canopy width was the average of the values obtained for the largest width of the plant shoot measured in both north-south and east-west directions of the row within each block. Stem diameter was the caliper value for measurement taken at soil level. Roots lifted with digging fork were rinsed with tap water and fan dried before their fresh weight determination. Representative root and shoot samples taken after their fresh weight determination were oven dried at 70[degrees]C for 24 hours, reweighed, and used to determine their dry weights. After dry weight determination, root dry samples were ground in a Wiley mill[R] (20 mesh) (Arthur H. Thomas Co. Philadelphia, PA) and used for root mineral composition determination.

After the November 11, 1999, data collection, the remaining plants for each Echinacea species were counted and allowed to overwinter. Additional pine bark mulch was applied to each bed to protect roots from cold damage. On April 28, 2000, counts were made to determine the number of plants that survived the mild winter in southwest Mississippi. On May 9, 2000 additional Response 9-9-7 [R] was applied at the rate of 1 cup per plant. Other field management practices were as for 1999 growth period. On July 8, 2000, data collection on plant growth parameters were as for the first growth period. Data were subjected to analysis of variance, and means separated by the Least Significant Difference (LSD) test (Steele and Torrie, 1980).


In 1999 (first growth period), plant survival 18 and 120 days after transplanting was highest for E. purpurea and lowest for E. angustifolia (Table 1). In 2000 (second growth period), when plant survival was based on the number of plants allowed to overwinter, plant survival 289 days after transplanting was highest for E. angustifolia and lowest for E. purpurea which was not significantly different from E. pallida. Plant survival among the three species 360 days after transplanting was not different.

In 1999 root dry weight, canopy height, flowers per bed, and shoot dry weight were highest for E. purpurea (Table 2). The same plant species had the highest canopy width, but was not significantly different from that reported for E. pallida. Both root length and stem diameter among the three species were not different.

In 2000 root dry weight and root length were highest for E. pallida (Table 2). Stem diameter was highest for E. purpurea, but was not different from E. pallida. Canopy height and canopy width were highest for E. pallida, but were not different from E. purpurea which had the highest significant values for flowers per bed and shoot dry weight. Growth for all species were generally higher in the year 2000 compared to 1999.

In 1999 root macronutrient composition was significant for phosphorous, potassium, calcium and magnesium (Table 3). Phosphorus was highest for E. angustifolia, but was not significantly different from E. purpurea. Potassium and calcium were highest for E. pallida and E. purpurea, respectively. Magnesium was highest for E. purpurea., but was not significantly different from E. pallida. Both nitrogen and sulfur were not different among the three species.

In 2000 all the root macronutrients were influenced by production practices (Table 3). Nitrogen was highest for E. angustifolia and lowest for E. purpurea. Phosphorus was highest for both E. purpurea and E. angustifolia and lowest for E. pallida. Potassium was highest for E. purpurea, but was not significantly different from E. pallida. Both calcium and magnesium were highest for E. purpurea, whereas sulfur was highest for both E. pallida and E. angustifolia.


The comparable soil fertility levels before and after the two growth periods indicate that soil fertility levels in southwest Mississippi may be adequate for Echinacea growth and development. However, transplanting seedlings after the middle of July could lead to a reduction in plant survival. Hot days following late season transplanting could therefore result in the loss of transplants even with the application of overhead sprinkler irrigation. Kemery and Dana (1995) reported that 57% of E. pallida seedlings planted in April survival compared to 9% of those planted in September. Transplanting Echinacea species between April 15 and May 15 or as soon as the danger of frost is over could lead to better root development, and concomitant absorption of adequate moisture needed to overcome high summer temperatures in southwest Mississippi. While Fchinacea species are drought tolerant, they do better with additional soil moisture (Tchnida et al., 1999). It is therefore important that farmers planning to switch to Echinacea and other herb production realize the need for supplemental irrigation.

This study indicates that E. purpurea, E. pallida, and E. angustfolia will grow to maturity and flower during the first year of growth in southwest Mississippi. However reports from North Mississippi were not similar (Burandt, 1990, personal communication). Echinacea purpurea grown from seeds flowered and fruited in Egypt by the end of the first growth season (Shalaby et al., 1997). In Finland and Switzerland, where E. purpurea seedlings were transplanted to the field in June and April, plants attained the fruiting stage in August of the following year (Galambosi, 1992). These findings suggest the impact of climatic conditions on Echinacea growth and development.

Data also show that biomass productions were generally greater for the three Echinacea species during the second growth period as compared to the first growth period. Shalaby et al. (1997) also reported that E. purpurea cultivated as perennials produced higher yields compared to those cultivated as annuals. Although biomass productions were higher during the second growth period in southwest Mississippi, root nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and magnesium were higher during the first growth period. The reduction in nutrient levels in plants could indicate their utilization in the increased biomass development. Even then, the levels are still comparable to those considered adequate in most vegetable (Splittstoesser, 1984). This means that in addition to their medicinal significance, Echinacea species could provide additional of dietary minerals in human nutrition.

Considering E. angustifolia's poor germination and seedling growth in the greenhouse (Igbokwe, unpublished data), and low survival rate in field plot after transplanting (Table 1), farmers switching to Echinacea production should consider E. purpurea and/or E. pallida for production in Mississippi. They should also consider sharing planting, harvesting, and drying equipment by forming cooperatives in order to reduce cost of production.
Table 1

Survival potential of Echinacea species.

 First growth Second growth
 period (1999) * period (2000) *
 Aug. 1 Nov. 11 April 28 July 8
 Percent survival of Echinacea species

E. purpurea 79.3 76.0 59.5 49.8
E. pallida 62.2 54.8 63.9 54.2
E. angustifolia 8.8 6.2 70.0 58.3
Mean 50.1 45.6 64.5 54.1
[LSD.sub.0.05] 16.0 16.0 4.5 NS

* Values are based on the initial seedlings transplanted on July 14,

** Values are based on number of plants allowed to overwinter after some
plants were uprooted and usd for data collection on Nov. 11, 1999.
Table 2

Echinacea growth potential.

 Plant growth Components *
Echinacea Root dry Root Stem Canopy Canopy
species weight length diameter height width


E. purpurea 14.2 29.8 1.4 43.7 44.0
E. pallida 10.7 21.8 1.0 14.6 39.3
E. angustifolia 4.8 24.3 0.9 11.0 16.2
Mean 9.9 25.3 1.1 23.1 33.2
[LSD.sub.0.05] 3.3 NS NS 18.3 13.4


E. purpurea 32.3 20.3 1.4 73.8 52.0
E. pallida 36.7 35.0 1.2 89.0 60.1
E. angustifolia 4.4 24.5 0.8 43.1 19.2
Mean 24.4 26.6 1.1 68.6 43.8
[LSD.sub.0.05] 1.8 10.1 0.3 22.9 9.1

 Plant growth Components *
Echinacea Flowers Shoot dry
species per bed weight


E. purpurea 128.5 91.8
E. pallida 8.3 30.1
E. angustifolia 0.3 5.7
Mean 45.7 42.5
[LSD.sub.0.05] 53.6 30.8


E. purpurea 149.3 126.6
E. pallida 28.0 83.7
E. angustifolia 0.5 15.5
Mean 59.3 75.3
[LSD.sub.0.05] 73.3 9.1

* Values are averages obtained from three mature plants pulled from each
bed within each of the four blocks.
Table 3

Root mineral composition for Echinacea species. *


 Macronutrient composition
Echinacea species N P K Ca Mg

E. purpurea 4.0 0.30 2.3 2.5 1.1
E. pallida 4.3 0.26 3.3 2.2 0.9
E. angustifolia 3.8 0.33 1.1 0.3 0.2
Mean 4.0 0.30 2.2 1.7 0.7
[LSD.sub.0.05] NS 0.04 0.8 0.2 0.2

Echinacea species S

E. purpurea 0.14
E. pallida 0.17
E. angustifolia 0.16
Mean 0.16
[LSD.sub.0.05] NS


 Macronutrient composition
Echinacea species N P K Ca Mg

E. purpurea 1.6 0.36 1.2 0.60 0.53
E. pallida 1.9 0.31 1.1 0.37 0.19
E. angustifolia 3.4 0.36 1.0 0.34 0.20
Mean 2.3 0.34 1.1 0.44 0.31
[LSD.sub.0.05] 0.1 0.03 0.1 0.13 0.04

Echinacea species S

E. purpurea 0.25
E. pallida 0.33
E. angustifolia 0.33
Mean 0.30
[LSD.sub.0.05] 0.01

* Analysis was based on dry weights of plant samples.


The authors wish to express their appreciations to Mississippi Legislature for making funds available for studies on Natural Products; to Alcom State University for supporting these studies; to Mr. William L. Owen, Drs. George Bates and Abdullah Muhammad, and Mrs. Iris Crosby for their constructive suggestions. Sincere thanks are extended to Mr. Larry Russell, Derrick Smith and Joseph Jackson for assisting with greenhouse and field plot management and data collection; Mrs. Arkon Burks and Veronica Igbokwe for typing the manuscript.


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Patrick E. Igbokwe (1,2), Liang Huam (2), Magid Dagher (2), Leshunda Anderson (2), and Charles Burandt (3)

(1.) Author for correspondence. Post Office Box 625

(2.) Alcorn State University, Alcorn State, MS 39096

(3.) University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS 38677
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Author:Burandt, Charles
Publication:Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences
Geographic Code:1U6MS
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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