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Reach the Sky With Joe-Pye

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Joe-Pye Weed Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Joe-Pye Weed
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Joe-Pye weed, Eupatorium spp., is a conspicuous late summer bloomer that grows naturally in wet or damp meadows, thickets and along roadsides. Luckily, it’s a natural for gardeners. A showy plant, few perennials can compare with Joe-Pye weed’s ability to create an imposing presence in the landscape. A member of the aster family, the plant is sometimes called feverweed, queen of the meadow and numerous other common names.

A tall wildflower, the unbranched stems of Joe-Pye weed usually grow 5 to 6 feet, but under good conditions can reach heights of 10 to 12 feet. Its large, rounded clusters of pink-purple fuzzy flower heads, large size and whorled leaves that come out from the stem like the spokes of a wheel make it easy to recognize. The showy flower clusters are invariably covered by a variety of insects including butterflies, bees and various wasps feeding on the sweet nectar.

In the garden, Joe-Pye performs best in full sun and moist soil, though the plant is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and moisture levels and is even considered drought-tolerant once established. Propagate by division.

Joe-Pye Weed Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Joe-Pye Weed
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Several Joe-Pye weed cultivars are available, including E. purpureum ssp. maculatum ‘Atropurpureum.’ At up to 9-feet high, this Joe-Pye stands up for attention. Its purple spotted and mottled stems don’t require stakes and it makes a great show at the back of a border with its violet-purple flowers.

Eupatorium purpureum ssp. maculatum ‘Gateway,’ at 4- to 5-feet tall, is more compact and bushy. ‘Gateway’ has graceful, dusky rose-pink flower heads in summer and fall. The stems are wine-colored and put out large green leaves. ‘Alba’ produces white flowers.

Joe-Pye weeds are easy to spot at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Stroll the sidewalks that edge the long Perennial Border and the shorter opposing Elizabeth Lawrence Border. Grab a map at the end of the border to help you identify the plants, but Joe-Pye will stand out for sure!

Royce Hardin