Coneflower bizarro

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Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

An alien has invaded my coneflower world! At Mt. Cuba last week I learned about a disease that afflicts these otherwise pretty tough and beautiful natives and about 300 other plant species, including asters, black-eyed Susans, zinnias, marigolds, crysanthemums, petunias and snapdragons AND - as if this isn't enough - lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and celery. The disease is called - improbably - aster yellows. What a weird name. So if you have something like this growing in your garden, it's not a mutant, as I have thought. And it's not, in my case, a green coneflower. (I thought perhaps I'd bought one along the way. The memory is going.) This is a coneflower afflicted with aster yellows, which is caused by leafhoppers and exacerbated by cool, wet weather. Had any of that lately!?

The symptoms include curled leaves or deformity like this - little leaves inside the flower or even instead of the flower. And the prognosis is not good. The disease is incurable, so just rip those babies out of there to prevent its spread. I did that this weekend - pulled out a patch or two of bizarro green coneflowers. The experts also recommend growing plants that don't usually get aster yellows - stuff like verbena, salvia, geranium, flowering tobacco and impatiens. I have those things already but half my garden this time of year is coneflowers!

The last bit of advice, from the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden, a really good information source, is to control weeds. It's like what the doctor says: Do everything in moderation, get proper sleep and exercise often. Sure. I'm on it.

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