Abstract Background Echinacea-endophyte interaction might affect plant secondary metabolites content and influence bacterial colonization specificity and plant growth, but the underlying mechanisms need deepening. An in vitro model, in which E. purpurea axenic plants as host species and E. angustifolia and Nicotiana tabacum as non-host species inoculated with single endophytes isolated from stem/leaf, root and rhizospheric soil, were used to investigate bacterial colonization. Results Colonization analysis showed that bacteria tended to reach tissues from which they were originally isolated (tissue-specificity) in host plants but not in non-host ones (species-specificity). Primary root elongation inhibition as well as the promotion of the growth of E. purpurea and E. angustifolia plants were observed and related to endophyte-produced indole-3-Acetic Acid. Bacteria-secreted substances affected plant physiology probably interacting with plant regulators. Plant metabolites played an important role in controlling the endophyte growth. Conclusions The proposed in vitro infection model could be, generally used to identify novel bioactive compounds and/or to select specific endophytes contributing to the host metabolism properties.