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What is an Echinops Plant?

Here's everything you need to know about the echinops plant, what it looks like, its growing conditions, uses, and some of its species. We've included some tips on how to propagate these upright perennials that are a wonderful addition to your garden bed.

Beautiful dark blue echinops flower heads growing in a wild garden with purple black eyed susans

Genus Echinops

Are you a person who is in search of a plant that looks like a golf ball shaped blue hedgehog at the end of a stem?! Well, look no further because echinops are the only plant that could possibly fit that description.

The genus echinops contains about 120 flowering plant species, and they are part of the daisy (astercaeae) botanical family! Echinops varieties are better known as a globe thistle, and the scientific term is derived from the Greek term echinos, which translates literally to hedgehog! Cute!

We love echinops. They’re a hardy perennial, they’re cute, they’re weird, they bring charm to any garden, and on top of all that, they are extremely low maintenance and trouble free once they are established.

If you are a person who is not looking for a golfball shaped blue hedgehog at the end of a stem, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Head on over to our Amazing List of Flowering Plants where you can find things of different shapes, sizes, and colors, that will all look marvellous in your green space.

Stunning violet globe thistle plants growing at the ends of long stems in a wild field as the sun is setting

Related: Blue and Violet Flowers | Famous Types of Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet

Focus on wild echinops flower stems with sharply divided foliage and striking purple flower heads

What does Echinops Look Like?

Flowers

You don’t really have any reason to care about an echinops plant other than because of their flowers. An echinops flower usually emerges late summer or early fall.

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Blooms last between 5-8 weeks (which is a wonderfully long blooming season) and they are borne as inconspicuous inflorescences. They are comprised of tiny and lengthy petal type flower parts that create a spherical spiny shape (kind of like when a puffer fish inflates!)

These spiny spherical flowers will change color depending on the specific cultivar, but they will usually be somewhere on the color spectrum between from a white flower all the way to bright blue. The most popular cultivar sports a steel blue flower.

Macro hyper detailed photo of an echinops flower head with bright purple spiny flower petals against a blurred background

Leaves

Echinops plants grow a basal rosette of leaves. These spiny leaves are sharply divided that are dark green with a downy surface on the underside of the leaf.

Growth Pattern

Echinops plants grow from a very strong and deep taproot (something that they have in common with carrots) that helps them survive against adverse climate conditions. From this taproot grows a basal rosette of leaves, and long sturdy flower stalks grow from the centre of the rosette.

The flower stem has a thistle like texture, so be weary when handling these plants! From the top of this strong and long stem (usually up to 48 inches in height) you will find the spiny spherical flower.

*This plant looks like it could have been drawn from a Dr.Seuss book!

Amazing field of wild echinops flowers with spiny purple flower heads growing at the ends of silvery stems

What are some Echinops Species?

Small Globe Thistle (Echinops Ritro subsp. Ruthenicus)

Beautiful field of small globe thistle flowers with pollinators visiting flowers

Also known as the blue hedgehog, steel globe thistle, or Ruthenian globe thistle, the small globe thistle is an erect standing herbaceous perennial. It grows beautiful bright blue globe shaped flowers at the ends of multi branching, sturdy stems that are a lovely silver color, with matching silver/green leaves.

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Blue Glow Globe Thistle (Echinops Bannaticus)

Stunning blue glow globe thistles growing in the wild with lovely yellow flowers

The blue glow globe thistle is a clump forming herbaceous perennial plant. It grows quite tall with stiff branching dark green stems, where at the end you can find that coveted steel blue globe shaped thistle flower.

Veitch’s Blue Globe Thistle (Echinops Ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’)

Blossoming flower of the veitch's blue globe plant with very dark purple flowers growing at the ends of silvery stems

What many gardeners refer to as being the loveliest globe thistle, Veitch’s blue globe thistle is an abundant rebloomer that produces incredible deep blue flowers. They grow at the end of silver stems that sport a graceful curve, and dark green foliage to contrast.

Where are Echinops Native to?

Echinops are originally a native plant to the temperate regions of Europe, with their natural growing range extending throughout eastern and central Asia, then towards the mountains of tropical regions in northern Africa.

Since they are such a resilient plant that is very talented at proliferating, they have become naturalized in many other places of the world, specifically in USDA growing zones 3 through 9! Lucky for them!

How do you Propagate an Echinops Plant?

The propagation of your very own echinops plant can be done either through plant division, or through sowing seed. Keep in mind that plant division can only happen when the plant is mature!

Propagation through Division

Wait until your echinops plant is at least 3 years old before attempting to divide it. Around this time, it should have started sprouting small plantlets at the base of the original specimen.

Divide away these smaller plants by taking a sharp spade and cutting into the soil to grab the deep taproot. This can be done in the spring, and the divided root cuttings can be planted directly after.

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Propagation through Sowing Seed

If you happen to have younger echinops plants, you can propagate through collecting echinops seeds and replanting them elsewhere. Collect seeds in the fall.

Seeds can be planted in autumn, as they will lay dormant in the soil before they are ready for germination in the late winter or early spring!

Picking a Spot

Whether you choose to propagate through division or sowing seed, the most important part of planting echinops is choosing the ideal spot in your garden!

These plants love sunshine, so pick a spot that receives at least 6 hours minimum of morning sunlight. They can tolerate partial shade in the hottest part of the day.

Additionally, it is important that they are planted in nutrient poor soil. This may sound odd, but it’s simply what they want! That means no compost, no fertilizer, no nothing!

Abundant field of echinops plants in their youth with green flowers growing in a dense cluster

What are the Growing Conditions of Echinops Plants?

Soil Type

Echinops plants can tolerate a great many soil types, though they seem to thrive in soil that is very poor in nutrients. They prefer to have soil that is dry or with minimum moisture, and it most certainly must be well drained.

The acidity level of the soil can vary, and they seem to perform very well in sandy soils or clay soil. Just remember that rich soil should be avoided!

This is because rich soil ends up resulting in the planting “outgrowing” itself. This means that plants will grow so tall that the stems cannot support the weight of the flowerhead, and they may tip over or break entirely.

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Sun Exposure

The echinops is a sun lover! But aren’t we all? It is best that they are planted in an area that receives a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight, as anything less could possibly result in a poor blossom season. They can tolerate partial shade in the afternoon.

Water Level

Though a young echinops plant has minimal water requirements (natural precipitation should completely suffice) a mature plant is entire drought tolerant. Simply remember that they appreciate moisture during their growing season, but afterwards they can be completely ignored!

Amazing landscape with rolling hills and mountains in the background with tall echinops flowers growing in the foreground

Temperature

If all of that weren’t appealing enough, echinops are also wonderfully cold hardy! Though they are native to more temperate and tropical regions, they can exist in USDA growing zones 3 through 9.

Pruning

The only pruning that needs to be done to an echinops plants in deadheading, and this is only if you would prefer that it didn’t proliferate all over your garden on its own.

Simply pop off the spent flower head before it goes to seed by cutting the seeded stalk right down to the basal rosette of leaves. This will prevent them from popping up in random places. This is also a great way to harvest your own seeds, so that you can control an echinops patch as you please.

Fertilizer

When it comes to fertilizing an echinops plant, it simply does not need to be done! Not only is it not necessary, they won’t appreciate it at all. These plants thrive in nutrient poor soil, so leave it alone!

Intolerances

All in all, echinops are super duper low maintenance and easy to care for. You can completely ignore them once they are well established and they’ll love you for it.

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Just remember that they are intolerant to poorly drained soil, intolerant to water logged soil, and they are intolerant to full shade conditions. But at the end of the day, those are super easy things to avoid.

Beautiful wildlife garden with ornamental grasses and echinops flowers growing in clusters

How is Echinops Used?

Ornamental Plant

The echinops is mainly used as a wonderful ornamental specimen. They make for a great and unique addition to a garden bed as a perennial border plant along with shrubs, or as a container plant. They are an exceptional choice for cottage gardens or wildlife gardens too.

They also are a prime choice as a cut flower for flower arranging. This is because they have long and simple sturdy stems and blossoms that last a long time. That’s perfect for flower bouquets!

Additionally, you can make an echinops flower arrangement more permanent by drying them out. Simply hang them upside down until they are completely dried out, and add them to any dried flower arrangement.

Wildlife Ecology

Not only are they beautiful, but echinops plants are a great perennial to incorporate to your butterfly garden. They attract insect pollinator species like bees, all sorts of species of birds, and all sorts of butterflies – like painted lady butterflies! Who wouldn’t want those beauties frequenting their property?

Macro image of bright purple echinops flowers with a young bee coming to visit for nectar

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