Say Hi To Joe-Pye

Steve Bender

Confess. One look at this plant makes you desperately desire it for your garden. Would you still lust for it if you knew its true common name ends with the word "weed?" The mere possibility of that made Grumpy erase the word from the headline. That's because you need a stately, native plant that butterflies crave and makes onlookers rave. You need Joe-Pye weed.

Supposedly named for Joe-Pye, a native American medicine man, Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum, formerly Eupatorium purpureum) is an imposing perennial indigenous to the eastern and midwestern U.S. It can grow into a clump 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Handsome foliage combines with large domes of fluffy flowers that range from shadowy pink to deep rose to lavender and purple. Flowering occurs in August and September, bringing welcome color at a time when most gardens look fried.

Joe-Pye weed belongs to the aster family, but you'll notice its blooms don't look anything like daisy-shaped asters. They lack the outer rings of flattened, sterile, ray flowers. Instead, they consisting of clouds of fertile disc flowers that form seed. The disc flowers are tiny, but so profuse that the show doesn't suffer a bit. And this is where the "weed" epithet comes into play. If you don't deadhead the plant after the blooms fade, you can expect lots of seedlings.

Where to Plant Due to its height, Joe-Pye weed is a classic, back-of-the-border plant. Combine it with asters, black-eyed Susans, ornamental grasses, purple coneflower, showy sedum, goldenrod, summer phlox, sunflowers, and other late summer-fall bloomers. In recent years, a number of supposedly shorter selections of Joe-Pye weed and its lookalike cousin, spotted Joe-Pye weed (E. maculatum), have arrived on the scene, including 'Little Red,' 'Gateway,' and 'Phantom.' The tags claim these compact plants stand only 4-5 feet tall, but experience shows they sometimes grow just as tall as the big boys.

Tip -- A good trick to produce shorter plants with even more flowers is to shear them back by a foot in early July. Each shortened stem will produce two stems -- ergo, twice the number of blooms. Plus, the plant will top out a couple of feet shorter.

How to Grow Joe-Pye weed naturally occurs in wetlands and drainage ditches, so you might think wet soil is mandatory. But the soil doesn't need to be boggy or poorly drained. Moist, ordinary garden soil is fine. Give your plant full to partial sun. You'll find that for a weed, it's much more than your average Joe.

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