On Gardening: Joe Pye Weeds creating Yellowstone type moments

September 3, 2018

Joe Pye weeds create 'Yellowstone' type moments at the roadside as passersby take photos of the blooms and butterflies.

In Yellowstone, as you drive from one scenic point to another you’ll notice cars pulled to the side of the road. This is a clear signal that something of extraordinary interest has been spotted. Bison, elk, moose, wolves and of course bears are at the top of the list.

The past few weeks, particularly in Georgia, we’ve been experiencing this type of moment but with unbelievably picturesque Joe Pye Weeds. There is one more caveat to this scenario however and that is the Joe Pye Weeds appear to be the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport for butterflies.

You have to admit it makes you feel good to know folks, and I am talking young ones, are so interested as to get out of their cars, for an up close and personal encounter with swallowtails, hairstreaks, and an assortment of bees. I too found myself getting off the beaten path so to speak to be a participant in this nature fest.

While Joe Pye will forever be tagged with the indignation of having weed associated with its name rest assured it is and forever will be a dazzling perennial for the back of the garden border. This year I saw them for sale at one of the national chains. Could ironweeds, goldenrods, and bonesets be next?

This relative of the chrysanthemum has been loved worldwide and made it into European gardens while we weren’t even paying attention. Legend has it that Joe Pye was a Native American Indian, Jopi who used the plant to cure fever. While we won’t use it for its medicinal properties this chrysanthemum relative can be a trusted perennial for the landscape and is a must-have for backyard habitats and butterfly gardens.

The Joe Pye has changed botanically from Eupatorium to Eutrochium. You’ll find them native from the Gulf States to Canada. In my state of Georgia, we have three species and another just across the river that all gather under the Joe Pye name. We have Eutrochium fistulosum, or hollow stem Joe Pye weed which is the one is often seen at the edge of woodland roadsides producing rose-pink flowers on stalks that may reach 6 to 8 feet tall.

When I was at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we grew ‘Little Red’, a variety of the native Eutrochium purpureum. Little Red is a slightly more compact selection at 4 to 6 feet with large rose-purple heads of flowers. Then there is Eutrochium maculatum or spotted Joe Pye Weed that is also touted as compact but still reaches 5 feet plus. ‘Gateway’ is a leading variety that you

Then oddly, just across the river into South Carolina you will start finding the Coastal Plain Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium dubium. Little Joe is a selection of this species that has received rave reviews across the country. It too is more compact reaching 3- to- 4 feet tall.

Regardless of the one you choose, remember that the Joe Pye does best in fertile, loamy soil. To look their best, you will most likely need to give them supplemental water during droughty periods of the summer. Plant them informally in cluster or drifts at least 3 feet apart. With their rapid growth, you may find it to your liking to pinch in June to encourage branching.

Take a tip from Mother Nature and grow them with plants like Ironweeds, Lynn Lowery goldenrod, swamp hibiscus and anise hyssops or hummingbird mints. If you do you may just have those ‘Yellowstone’ moments where people are stopping by your home to participate in nature.



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