Smooth purple coneflower (Echinacea laevigata)
In a shift that represents a significant milestone in the recovery of smooth purple coneflower (Echinacea laevigata), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reclassifying this southeastern native plant from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This change comes as a result of years of work by partners across the plant’s range, including the North Carolina Botanical Garden.
Smooth purple coneflower grows in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia in open woodlands and glades over rocks rich in iron, magnesium, and calcium. Historically, it has relied on regular wildfires to keep its natural savanna habitat open and sunny. Fire suppression, development, and invasive species have threatened its survival.
The North Carolina Botanical Garden has been a key partner in the conservation and recovery of smooth purple coneflower. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as endangered in 1992, 39 populations had disappeared, and the remaining 21 populations were vulnerable and unstable. In the last 30 years, the Garden has:
- Restored smooth purple coneflower populations and habitat at Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve in Durham County.
- Grown smooth purple coneflower seedlings for restoration and research at the Picture Creek Diabase Barrens in Granville County.
- Banked smooth purple coneflower seeds to preserve genetic diversity: working through the Center for Plant Conservation, the Garden serves as the the lead repository for this species’ seeds. The Garden holds seed collections from across its range (GA, SC, NC, and VA) and safeguards material from 24 different populations.
- Partnered with the NC Plant Conservation Program to research the natural conditions that create positive growth for smooth purple coneflower and study the species response to management, all aiming to improve future conditions and status for this species.
Today, 44 distinct populations of smooth coneflower exist in Virginia (15), North Carolina (6), South Carolina (12) and Georgia (11). Sixteen of these 44 populations are considered healthy and occur within protected national forests and nature preserves where threats from habitat modification have been reduced.