Joe-Pye weed is
major player in the September yard, especially if you want to attract
weed is a real butterfly magnet," says native plant expert Helen
Hamilton of Williamsburg, Va. She is co-author of "Wildflowers
and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal Plain."
Blooming in late
summer until frost, Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium dubium), grows three to
10 feet tall with dense heads of fluffy pinkish flowers that are
usually covered with viceroys and other butterflies, bees, beetles and
wasps — all in a feeding and pollinating frenzy.
plants are a little rough for a formal garden," Hamilton says.
blooming and deer resistant, they can grow very large and are great in
a wild garden, or placed to the rear or where a strong accent is
are meadow plants; most require full sun, and acidic, rich soil with
moist drainage, although some tolerate shade, less moisture, coastal
conditions and clay soil. Clump-forming, they will not form extensive
drifts, according to Hamilton.
Members of the
Aster family, Joe-Pye-weeds have no rays (petals), only disk flowers,
and they are tiny, making it easy for small insects to access nectar,
she adds. Butterflies, including tiger swallowtails, monarchs and
viceroys, also like the flowers.
Three species of
Joe-Pye-weed are native to the Coastal Plain, according to Hamilton.
The shortest is Coastal Joe-Pye-weed, growing five feet tall. A
popular cultivar called Little Joe is only three feet tall and
compact, and its mauve-purpose flowers are an excellent choice for a
small butterfly garden. Also a good choice for a rain garden, Coastal
Joe-Pye-weed grows naturally in bogs, swamps and wet clearings,
usually in acidic, poor soils. It grows throughout the Chesapeake Bay
watershed, as well as more than 30 states nationwide (not the West
Coast or Texas, Louisiana and Florida region).
weed (E. purpureum) grows to seven feet tall and Hollow-stem Joe-Pye
weed (E. fistulosum) can be more 11 feet tall. The flowers of both
species are pale pink to purplish, in rounded domes, or loose clusters
at the tops of stems.
‘Joe-Pye weed’ comes from a tale about a North American Indian
called Joe Pye, who walked the streets of Boston selling a cure for
typhus, using an elixir of this plant to induce profuse sweating, thus
breaking the fever — although this story is in some doubt among
authors," says Hamilton.
is also called ‘gravel root’ because it has the ability to remove
and to a certain degree dissolve kidney stones or gravel."
butterflies they attract, you may wonder, is it a monarch or viceroy?
closely resemble each other, but the viceroys are slightly smaller and
distinguished by a black band across the hind wings," says
two species can be distinguished by their flight patterns — monarchs
float, with a ‘flap, flap, glide’ pattern, whereas the viceroy
flight is faster and more erratic."
overwinter as larvae, rolled up in a leaf of a host plant, willow or
poplar, Hamilton adds. They become adults in the spring in about two
weeks, after willow or poplar leaves emerge. Spring temperatures
control how early the leaves appear and how quickly the caterpillars
grow and the chrysalis develops. Adults are seen in wet habitats,
along ponds, swamps and rivers, the males perching in late morning and
early afternoon, defending territory and looking for females. Mated
females deposit a single egg at the tip of a leaf, resembling a gall.
In early spring
when few flowers are available, viceroys feed on carrion, dung and
decaying fungi. Forming more than one brood per year, later
generations feed on late-summer and early-fall plants like Joe-Pye
weeds, asters, and goldenrods, all plants with clusters of tiny
flowers. From their host plants, the caterpillars sequester salicylic
acid in their bodies that makes them taste bitter and upsets the
stomachs of predators. Also, the caterpillars and their chrysalis
stage resemble bird droppings, which give them natural protection from
butterflies feed on milkweed plants, ingesting toxic glycosides that
are distasteful to predators. The resemblance of the coloration of
viceroys to that of monarchs has been suggested as a protective
device, but researchers have offered caterpillar bodies without wings
of both monarchs and viceroys to birds, which reject both. Butterflies
display many color patterns and show a lot of mimicry, but there has
been debate as to the explanations for this, according to Hamilton.