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The genus name is from the Greek echino, meaning "spiny", due to the spiny central disk. They are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing to 1 or 2 m in height. The leaves are lanceolate to elliptic, 10-20 cm long and 1.5-10 cm broad. Like all Asteraceae, the flowers are a composite inflorescence, with purple (rarely yellow or white) florets arranged in a prominent, somewhat cone-shaped head; "cone-shaped" because the petals of the outer ray florets tend to point downward (are reflexed) once the flower head opens, thus forming a cone.