What is my echinacea doing?
This echinacea purpurea had a rough season - it started strong but has been looking rather diseased. By late August, several of the flowers have produced some kind of growth out of the central cone (pictured). What is that central growth?
Howard County Maryland
These appear to be symptoms of Aster Yellows, a virus-like pathogen which affects daisy-family plants such as Echinacea along with many other garden plants and weeds. It is transmitted by sap-sucking insects called leafhoppers. Leafhoppers are common garden pests but their control is quite difficult, especially on plants such as these that have good wildlife value (and therefore should not be treated with insecticide).
Aster Yellows is not curable and will eventually kill a plant. The affected plants (roots included) need to be removed and disposed of (do not compost).
The pathogen is not in the soil itself, so you can replant safely, though there is a risk new plants will contract the same pathogen if they are vulnerable species and are feed upon by infected leafhoppers. To reduce this risk, make sure the area is weed-free and be vigilant for symptoms appearing in any nearby plants, removing them as needed if they do manifest.
These pages provide more information on this disease and a few look-alike conditions: