773 Eupatorium fistulosumCommon Names: Joe Pye weed, queen-of-the-meadow Family: Asteraceae (aster/daisy Family)
Joe Pye weed is a robust upright perennial, 3-10 ft (0.9-3.1 m) tall, with a purple stem that is unbranched below the flower clusters and mostly hollow. The lance shaped leaves are 8-12 in (20.3-30.5 cm) long, and arranged in whorls of 4-7 at each node on the stem. The leaves have a vanilla scent when crushed. The flowerheads are pink or purplish mauve and densely packed in several large rounded clusters at the top of the stem. The showy flower clusters are up to 18 in (45.7 cm) across and invariably covered with butterflies, wasps, beetles and other nectar sipping insects from summer until late autumn.
Some authorities recognize additional, very similar species. Eupatorium purpureum (a.k.a. Eupatoriadelphus dubius or Eupatorium dubium) is a smaller, 5-8 ft (1.5-2.4 m) tall, more northern plant with mainly green stems that are solid, not hollow, and just 3 or 4 leaves per node. E. maculatum is smallest, 3-6 ft (0.9-15.2 m) tall, and has purple spotted, solid stems, and flat topped flowerheads that contain twice as many florets as the other Joe Pyes; it is the most cold hardy of all, growing as far north as Quebec and Newfoundland, and only as far south as North Carolina. Characteristics of all three "species" run together, and the taxonomy is confused. Some authorities do not recognize all three species as being distinct, whereas others split the Joe Pye weeds into even more species!
Several cultivars have been named, but don't try to figure out which species they were selected from! 'Atropurpureum' has purple stems, leaves and flowers. 'Album' has white flowers. 'Gateway' is smaller, to 5 ft (1.5 cm) tall, with mauve-pink flowers and reddish stems; it is quite cold-hardy and probably was selected from E. maculatum.
Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium fistulosum, grows in moist fields and pastures, along road shoulders, at the edges of woods, and in disturbed areas in the eastern U.S. from central Florida to east Texas and north to Iowa, Quebec and Newfoundland. They are often abundant along streams and ditches. Although rarely found in gardens in the U.S., Joe Pye weed is a very popular ornamental plant in England.
CultureJoe Pye weed normally gets pretty tall before it flowers in summer, but you can prune it back in late spring and it will bloom at a much lower height. Light: Joe Pye weed grows best in full sun. Plants grown in partial shade can get too tall reaching for the light, and are likely to fall over. Moisture: Joe Pye weed needs plenty of water. It will survive in dry sites, and is even considered to be drought tolerant, but it never will be as robust and showy as when grown with abundant moisture. Joe Pye weed can tolerate periods of inundation. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Some geographic populations (species?) of Joe Pye weed are cold hardy only to Zone 5 and some cannot survive the summers south of Zone 7. It all depends on where they came from. Propagation: Joe Pye weed is easily propagated by dividing the root clumps with a sharp shovel or spade during the dormant season.
Joe Pye weed is a tall, dominating plant - not for the tidy flower bed or formal border. Grow Joe Pyes in a semi-wild naturalistic garden or alongside a stream or pond. They are big and bold enough to hold their own amongst shrubs in a mixed border. Joe Pye weed can be one of the structural focal points of the autumn garden. Plant them along the back fence or at the rear of a mixed border. Few American gardeners make use of this easy-to-grow native although more are now discovering it. Across the Big Pond though, British gardeners use it extensively in mixed borders and semi-wild corners. Perhaps if it were called Joe Pye flower instead ...
Joe Pye weed supplies the autumn garden with architectural structure, color and motion. (The motion comes from the hordes of butterflies that are always fluttering about the flowers.) Joe Pye weed is one of the showiest perennials in autumn, towering above summertime's worn out flowers and shrubs, and demanding attention. American gardeners should take a lesson from the British who know this to be a worthy garden ornamental!
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.
Steve Christman 8/3/00; updated 11/8/03