Echinacea 'Firebird,' an Orange Coneflower

How to Grow This Drought-Tolerant Perennial

Firebird coneflower (image) is orange-flowered. This perennial likes sun.
Why is this cultivar named 'Firebird?' The answer lies in the orange color of the flower. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of the Orange Coneflower, 'Firebird'

Plant taxonomy classifies this orange coneflower as Echinacea 'Firebird.' The cultivar name, 'Firebird' was chosen as being indicative of its fiery color. This plant is categorized as an herbaceous perennial. Coneflowers are in the aster family, along with plants such as:

Plant Characteristics

Firebird coneflower is touted as having red flowers -- and under certain growing conditions, this is doubtlessly true -- but the ones grown for the purpose of this review have exhibited reddish-orange flowers. Likewise, the flower is described by its promoters (and by other sources) as having a "shuttlecock" shape (that is, like the birdie used in badminton), but newly-planted specimens may fail to assume this form until the plant has matured.

The perennial will reach 34 inches tall at maturity, with a spread only about half that. The leaves are dark green, the habit clumping. When the flowers first form, they, too are green.

The plant blooms from June through October, making it a long-blooming perennial. Another orange coneflower cultivar is 'Secret Lust,' although, in other respects, this cultivar is quite different from 'Firebird.'

Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements

Firebird coneflower is meant to be grown in planting zones 4-8. Echinacea is indigenous to North America.

While they prefer to grow in a well-drained soil, Firebird coneflower plants are otherwise tolerant of a number of soil types, including ground that is poor in nutrients. They are full-sun plants. These reddish-orange coneflowers are drought-tolerant perennials once established.

Uses in Landscaping

Given its Echinacea parentage, this orange coneflower cultivar can be treated as if it were a type of wildflower and used in a meadow planting. But the average grower is perhaps more likely to use it in rock gardens, considering its drought resistance. For the same reason, it is useful for xeriscaping. Its medium size would recommend it for the middle row in many flower beds, assuming the front row consists of short perennials and groundcovers.

The Echinacea genus boasts uses beyond the landscaping arena. You may be familiar with the extract, for example, which reputedly helps the human immune system. Such medicinal uses cause some to classify these plants as "herbs."

Wildlife, Pests Attracted to Firebird Coneflower

One July or August day, you may open your back door and step out to find a goldfinch perched on the cone of one of your Firebird coneflowers. The perennial is considered a veritable bird magnet, reputedly attracting hummingbirds, among other types. It is also a plant that attracts butterflies.

With all of this wildlife drawn to the plant, you folks in Bambi country are probably asking: Do deer eat this plant? Luckily, the answer is no: Firebird coneflower is a deer-resistant perennial. We are not so lucky, however, when it comes to Bugs Bunny, as the perennial is not one of the rabbit-proof flowers.

Then there is the insect world's fascination with Echinacea. For example, slugs, snails and cutworms are all known to eat the leaves of perennials in this genus. To grow these flowers successfully, be prepared to remain vigilant, inspecting your plants on a daily basis, and keep some organic neem oil or other herbicide handy at all times. Otherwise, you will have to put up with having the foliage look like Swiss cheese (assuming the rabbits do not get to it first).

Care, Outstanding Features

Divide the plants in spring whenever your patch of Firebird coneflower seems to be losing vitality, due to overcrowding. Some gardeners deadhead theirs -- not so much to promote reblooming (they will rebloom on their own) as for aesthetic reasons.

The namers of the cultivar got it right: The chief selling point of Firebird coneflower is its fiery flower color. Its bright orange color makes it one of the best perennials to grow in full sun. But it has a few other noteworthy qualities, as well, including its:

  • Drought tolerance
  • Ability to draw wildlife
  • Winter interest
  • Suitability as a cut flower

Echinacea, generally speaking, makes for a good cut flower, and this reddish-orange coneflower is no exception. So cut a few stems and bring them indoors to enjoy the vibrant color of the flowers. Likewise, winter interest is a trait associated with coneflowers in general, owing to the dried cones left behind on the flowers at the end of the growing season.

Interesting Facts: Origin of the Common Name, Latin Name

The genus name, Echinacea derives from echinos, which is Greek for "hedgehog." The flowers' cones, which consist of a network of tiny needles, inspired the name.

Likewise, as already alluded to (and as is more obvious), the origin of the common plant name, "coneflower" lies in the so-called "cone" found at the center of each bloom.