Joe Pye Weed is a plant in need of a rebranding! This perennial has a totally unfortunate name but many positive attributes. It blooms in late August and September – always a good thing. It’s easy to grow as long as it gets a couple of hours of sun a day. It’s a pollinator magnet. Check out this post from the Humane Gardener on Instagram… can you believe it?!
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The next time someone tells you they’re really attached to their invasive butterfly bush and can’t possibly remove it because the butterflies love it so much, walk them over to a patch of Joe Pye weed. If this doesn’t convince them that there are better alternatives, I don’t know what would! We usually have close to this level of activity every year, but the butterflies and the nectar plants have upped their game. This video was taken from the front of the patch – there were just as many swallowtails behind it, plus monarchs swooping in. As the Joe Pye in the sunniest area starts going to seed, the butterflies are now enjoying a buffet of ironweed while they wait for Joe Pyes in shadier spaces to bloom. We have several different species that are native in many parts of the East, but according to the Biota of North America Program (bonap.net/napa), there are related plants (in the Eutrochium genus) in all but three states in the continental U.S. #joepyeweed #gonative
Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) works well wherever you might use sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’ Sedum ‘Autumn joy’ is a nice perennial too. It’s not known to be invasive. It emerges in early summer a very cool minty green color and then continues to morph through summer to the deeper pink blooms. You can propagate it by cutting off a piece, stick it in the ground and with a bit of water, the new piece will grow roots. Pollinators also enjoy it. So why would joe pye weed be an even better choice?
This is the whole enchilada with native plants. Our native insects, pollinators, birds and animals in the Chesapeake watershed all have different needs throughout their lives from the larval through the adult stage. Adult insects will often lay eggs on a specific plant because young larva can only survive by eating that exact plant. Or a certain bird will need to find a specific seed to feed its young at a particular time. Native plants fill specific niches. An ornamental perennial may provide food to a bee or butterfly at some point, but as a plant native to Europe or Asia, it will not provide everything our native insects, pollinators, birds and animals need throughout their life cycle.
Native plants are the only plants that can do that. So, maybe add a joe pye weed this weekend?
There are several types. The straight species of Joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is a giant, growing to 7 or 8 feet tall. This is perfect if you have a huge perennial bed in a large garden. It’s an excellent back of the border plant. If you don’t have that kind of space, though, Little joe pye weed (Eutrochium dubnium ‘Little Joe’) is for you. It’s compact, growing to 3 to 4 feet high and wide. These also make nice cut flowers.
A nice array of photos of Joe Pye weed from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.