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Sweet Coneflower, Quilled

Plant of the Week

Quilled Sweet Coneflower
Latin: Rudbeckia subtomentosa

Picture of Larry Bowman holding Quilled Sweet Coneflower plant.
Larry Lowman introduced a number of unique native plants into the nursery trade, including the quilled sweet coneflower.

Gardening has a way of attracting individuals with a unique form of artistic temperament. They combine a curiosity about the natural world with passion, intellect and artistic flair that separates them from the average weekend gardener.

Larry Lowman, an east Arkansas native plant guru, is such an individual who has introduced a number of plants into the garden trade, including the quilled sweet coneflower.

The quilled sweet coneflower is a selection of Rudbeckia subtomentosa given the cultivar name of 'Henry Eilers', after the nurseryman and prairie restoration specialist who discovered it alongside a streambank in southern Montgomery County, Ill. It was Lowman's ninth plant introduction, being offered for Internet sales by Plants Delight Nursery since 2003.

Though a relative of the more common black-eyed Susan, this perennial grows four to 5 feet tall and is topped with 2-inch wide pinwheel flowers with a brown center and 15 to 20 sulfur yellow ray florets. Unlike the typical ray flowers that splay out flat, in 'Henry Eilers' florets are rolled lengthwise into a quill shape. It blooms in late summer, peaking in mid-August.

It's an upright grower with leaves on the lower part of the plant divided into three segments. Foliage exposed to slight drought stress gives off a faint vanilla scent, the reason for the common name. The species ranges from Wisconsin to Louisiana and is usually found in low, open meadows, in the half shade near streamsides and along roadways.

Larry grew up in Cabot where he was a child of the woods, learning much and being inspired by his grandmother as they went on nature walks. As a teenager, he and his father built a backyard greenhouse, and he was thoroughly hooked. After a short career as a park naturalist, where his trademark bandanna and ponytail clashed with the buttoned-down image of the agency, he started Ridgecrest Nursery in 1985.

The nursery is a plant-lovers delight with small treasures and big, overgrown specimens flourishing side by side in the rich, loess soils atop Crowley's Ridge on the outskirts of Wynne. While he grows a wide range of plants, his passion has been for Arkansas natives. Like an artist
from the Hudson River school, he combined native plants into landscapes that made nature better than it really was.

If customers sought a more conventional meatball landscape, he suggested they look elsewhere for landscaping assistance, since he didn't think they would be happy with his nature-centric designs. But, after 20 years, he decided it was time to close the doors and move on to another phase of his life.

In the fall of 2004, he sold off much of his stock and began moving to a farm in the mountains of Carroll County, a few miles south of Berryville. This fall, his Wynne nursery will only be open on Saturday afternoons through the end of October 2005 while he liquidates his remaining stock.

Once completely relocated, he hopes to kick back, grow organic vegetables and maybe breed a few daylilies. But, in addition to the dozen plants he has thus far introduced, he will keep alert for other interesting plants. He has at least four more new plants he's watching.

Quilled sweet coneflower should be given a sunny location at the back of the border. It's compatible with other perennials in the sunny border, but over feeding, keeping it too wet or over crowding may cause it to topple over on its neighbors.

It has good drought tolerance and survived the horrific 2005 east Arkansas drought without difficulty. According to Larry, only about 15 or 20 percent of the seedlings retain the quilled character, so propagation should be from springtime division.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - September 23, 2005

 

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.