Often called the purple coneflower, this is a herbaceous perennial from the North American prairies which does well in Sydney gardens. Its flowering stems grow to between 80cm and 1m, producing large daisy flowers with down-turned rosy-purple petals and prominent brown central cones, which are attractive to beneficial insects. In Sydney it flowers from late November through to about the end of February. A white version (usually the cultivar 'White Swan') has flowers with a faint greenish tinge and is a little lower growing - and tends not to thrive as well as the purple one! There are some new orange, yellow and red versions that are enticing but I haven't had much luck with them either. There are some other species with very distinctive drooping petals, such as Echinacea pallida, but these don't seem to do well in our climate.
They do best in full sun, with reasonable, well-drained soil and adequate moisture, though they will stand periods of dryness quite well. Unlike most prairie plants, they dislike being divided, so propagation is generally by seed, which germinates readily: self-seeded plants often occur around the plants. The emerging leaves need to be protected from snails in early spring, but apart from that they appear subject to no other pests or diseases. The stems can be cut to the ground in winter: the fading seedheads are quite attractive in autumn.
Whilst purple coneflowers look attractive grown with ornamental grasses to give a 'prairie' effect, they mingle very well with subtropical flowers which bloom in Sydney summers, such as Pentas, Dahlia and Salvia, and are pretty in cottage garden settings with roses, perennial Phlox and the species Geranium which survive in Sydney (such as the tough cultivar 'Rozanne'). The flowers make very long-lasting cut blooms for vases.