A Weed by Another Name – The Joe Pye Weed
This is my site Written by Geoff on September 1, 2007 – 7:07 pm

Joe Pye Weed is a tall, dominating upright perennial, three to twelve feet tall, with a green to purple unbranched stems, that are mostly hollow. The lance shaped leaves are eight to twelve inches long, and arranged in whorls at each node on the stem. When crushed, the leaves have a slight hint of vanilla. The blooms are white to mauve and densely packed in several large rounded clusters at the top of the stem. The showy flower clusters can be up to twenty inches across and invariably covered with butterflies, wasps and bees, and beetles from summer until late autumn. Characteristics of all species run together, and identification of individual species can be confusing. 

In the wild, Joe Pye Weed grows in moist fields and pastures, along road shoulders, and at the woodland edges. An Eastern plant, it grows from Central Florida west to Texas and north into Canada. They often grow in thickets along streams and ditches. Some Joe Pyes can be very cold hardy, growing as far north as Quebec and Newfoundland. Normally they are considered cold hardy from Zone 3 through Zone 9. 

Joe Pye Weed is a very popular ornamental plant in Europe but rarely used in gardens in our country. This is starting to slowly change as the home gardener discovers just how useful they are, particularly in the butterfly garden. Most varieties are at home in the background of the border garden. We like to use them in a semi-wild naturalistic garden such as alongside a stream or pond. 

Joe Pye Weed are big and bold enough to hold their own among shrubs in a mixed border but grows best in full sun. Plants grown in partial shade will get too tall and flop over. You can prune them back in late spring and they will bloom at a much lower height. They all like plenty of water but will survive in dry sites. We consider them to be drought tolerant, but they will never be as showy as when grown with abundant moisture. 

Joe Pye Weed is one of the showiest perennials in autumn, towering above summertime’s worn out flowers and shrubs. We like to use them with Solidago rugosa Leraft and Panicum virgatum Cloud Nine or Prairie Sky. On a smaller scale we use Joe Pye Weed with Boltonia decurrens Snowbanks and Solidago rugosa Fireworks or Golden Baby planted in the foreground. All of these and more can be seen on our Plant Data Base. 

Joe Pye Weed has underground stems, called rhizomes, which grow laterally and send up new shoots. The root is woody, thick and purplish brown with cream colored flesh. The above-ground parts die in the Winter and the rhizomes start new stems, leaves, and flowers the following year. We easily propagated them by dividing the root clumps with a sharp shovel or spade during the dormant season. 

Native Americans used concoctions of Joe Pye weed to treat a diversity of internal and external ailments. The Algonquin, Joe Pye, was said to have cured typhus fever with the plant that received his name. The entire plant was used as a medicine with the roots being the strongest part. Crushed leaves have an apple scent and are dried then burned to repel flies. Boil dried root and flowers for a diuretic tea to relieve kidney and urinary problems. Tea is also used to induce sweating and break a high fever. 

We grow the Joe Pye Weeds not for it’s medicinal properties but because they look good in the garden and attract butterflies. We have seen ducks, geese and wild turkey weeding on them in the Fall. In our gardens the Eastern Cottontail and White-tailed Deer really flock to the tickets looking for the seeds. Our favorite is the impressive Gateway, although Carin and Little Joe are hard to beat. Joe Pye Weed attract butterflies and other insects, smell good, are attractive, easy to grow, and even provide food for wild critters. Not many plants are so versatile.

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Modified: March 7, 2009 at 7:09 pm GMT-0800

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