Monday, July 23, 2012

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Jim Ault's Last Coneflower

Burgundy Fireworks coneflower
Burgundy Fireworks coneflower

The new Burgundy Fireworks coneflower is striking with its quilled petals and deep red stems. It’s the latest introduction by Jim Ault at the Chicago Botanic Garden who helped kick off the coneflower color revolution. It also will be his last coneflower selection.

Ault has decided its time to move on. The world of coneflowers has changed a lot since his Orange Meadowbrite™ coneflower (Echinacea ‘Art’s Pride’ PP #10050) first hit the market in 2004. It was the first orange coneflower in cultivation.

Until then, this native plant had been just plain purple. It now comes in orange, peach, white, yellow, gold, magenta, pink and light green as well as various combinations of those colors. There are dwarf and double flowering varieties and even one called "Double Decker."

“Who would have ever guessed that we would see so much progress in breeding this crop say even five years ago?” Ault wrote in an email about his decision. “The progress in developing novel forms has been stunning.”

He also noted coneflowers are being developed by many people at this point.

“I am honored to have ‘been there’ at the beginning of the new trend in coneflower breeding but I cannot compete directly with the resources of the large breeding programs in terms of staffing, space to grow out plants, etc.” Ault wrote.

Jim Ault
Jim Ault
He's definitely going out with a bang. Burgundy Fireworks (Echinacea‘Burgundy Fireworks’ PPAF) has upturned, beet-red petals that are fused into quills. The deep red color of its stems is more prevalent in the spring and fall but can also be seen in the summer. The leaves get red midveins in cold weather.

It took ten years to develop and combines three different coneflowers: Echinacea laevigata, E. purpurea and E. tennesseensis.

Burgundy Fireworks is hardy in zones 5 to 7 and grows to about 18” tall by 24” wide. Like Ault’s other coneflowers, it is a Meadowbrite™ introduction through Chicagoland Grows®, Inc.

Ault said the Chicago Botanic Garden will continue to evaluate coneflowers though its program run by Richard Hawke. He also expressed concern about Aster yellows, a plant disease that can strike coneflowers.  

“As we grow more coneflowers, the potential is there for Aster yellows to become even more prevalent,” he wrote.

There is no cure for Aster yellows. Once a coneflower is infected, the plant has to be removed and destroyed. Ault estimated that in a bad year, he has lost up to 5% to 10% of his coneflowers to Aster yellows.

“Breeding for resistance may be a solution, but I’m not sure anyone has a clear understanding of which selections are more resistant,” he wrote. He said as gardeners become more educated about Aster yellows, they hopefully will know the symptoms and can remove infected plants from their gardens.

What’s next for Ault? He definitely will be adding more cultivars of Baptisia australis, a native plant commonly known as False Indigo, to his Prairieblues™ series. Ault currently has eight new varieties in nursery trials, with the first expected to be introduced in 2014. He also is developing new phlox cultivars, which may be available in 2013 or 2014.

Ault added that there are some other things he’s working on but he isn’t ready to talk about them just yet.

“Can’t tip my hand to the competition,” he said.

By Karen Geisler

Burgundy Fireworks coneflower landscape
Burgundy Fireworks coneflowers in the landscape
Photo by Chicagoland Grows ™ Inc.


  1. That's a beauty, and should perform well even during a drought. Thanks for the info!

    1. Even though we've had some much needed rain today, I've decided to plant more drought-tolerant plants in my garden in the future. Hope you got some rain up in Madison as well.

  2. Aster yellows must be responsible for the loss in our area too. The new variety is very pretty,hopefully they are resistant somewhat.

    1. I didn't know anything about Aster yellows until recently and it sounds very nasty. Will definitely have to watch out for it going forward. Hope your recent trip was great!

  3. He's right about aster yellows, every year I pull out at least a couple of infected plants. I like Burgundy Fireworks, looks like Echinacea pallida's super energetic older brother.

  4. Karen I must say I adore so many of jim's introductions and am sad to hear this is his last coneflower. I will have to have it. It is gorgeous.

  5. Karen,

    This is a beauty and I did photo it at Midwest Groundcovers. I have had Orange Meadowbrite (did not come back year after year) and Mango Meadowbrite (this one does come back). I am leary of trying many of the new introductions because I have bought many and they are not hardy in our area. Kim's Knee High is one of the best that I have in my garden.


    1. I agree that not all of the new coneflowers do well here. I've had good luck with both Pixie Meadowbrite, another Jim Ault introduction, and Kim's Knee High. I mostly have Magnus in my garden. Couldn't resist a flower with fireworks in the name, though.