At Maine Audubon we’ve decided it’s time to shine for Rudbeckia laciniata (pictured above; photo by Arthur Haines) which we have named as our 2023 plant of the year! Commonly known as Cutleaf Coneflower, or Sochan, this incredible edible is native to much of the United States, having strong ties to indigenous communities who’ve harvested the leaves for thousands of years.
The leaves can be harvested throughout the entire growing season, though they’re most tender in spring and early summer. If you’re a fan of kale for its health attributes, in comparison, Sochan has almost five times the nutrient content of some primary minerals! By that measure, it should be labeled a native superfood!
Aaron Parker, of Edgewood Nursery in Falmouth, Maine, recently released a podcast on all things Sochan. The episode features Nico Albert Willaims of Burning Cedar Sovereign Wellness, an expert in traditional indigenous foodways. The podcast covers the important ways that the plant has been used over time, and tips on how to grow and cook with it today. Listen here: https://edgewood-nursery.com/podcast
In addition to being a superfood for humans, it’s also an extremely important food source for wildlife, and is host to the Silvery Checkerspot. Uncommon in Maine, this butterfly is listed by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as a “Species of Special Concern,” meaning it is particularly vulnerable due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors.
Sochan is an extremely hardy, drought tolerant, and vigorous plant, growing as tall as ten feet high in the right environment. It is naturally found in wet meadows, forests with dappled sunlight, or along stream banks. It has the capacity to spread aggressively, so it is best planted at the back of a border or in open areas, and ideally will be kept in check through harvesting.
This towering beauty with vibrant yellow blossoms is also a great choice for restoring landscapes with invasive plants!