In Georgia, this appears to be the year of the Joe Pye weed. Everywhere you look it is providing staggering beauty including along the 40-mile stretch of The Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Highway, in North Georgia.
If the mountains and streams don't keep you spellbound, the Swallowtail butterflies sweeping down to partake of the nectar-rich, rose-pink flowers, will. 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 garden border.
At the Columbus Botanical Garden, they created a stunning combination with Goldsturm rudbeckias in the front with a layer of Joe Pye followed by a tall sweep of white hydrangea paniculata. In Mother Nature’s garden along the Georgia scenic highway, the Joe Pye weeds were naturally combined with purple ironweed, yellow-flowered helianthus, and a relative called tall-flowered thoroughwort.
Joe Pye is in the aster family and has been loved worldwide for a long time. It 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 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.
Oddly, the white blooming common boneset plant that looks like Joe Pye kept the old Eupatorium perfoliatium as did the tall boneset Eupatorium altissimum. These are two great substitutes if you want a white Joe Pye.
From South Carolina, along the coast to Maine, you will find the Coastal Plain Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium dubium. Little Joe is a widely popular selection of this species becoming one of the easiest to find for sale. It, too, is more compact reaching 3- to 4-feet tall.
Regardless of the one you choose, remember, Joe Pye does best in a fertile loamy soil. To looks its best, you will need to give it supplemental water during drought periods of the summer. Plant them informally in clusters or sweeps at least 3 feet apart. With their rapid growth, you may find it to your liking to pinch in early summer to encourage branching.
If Mother Nature can do it, and stop traffic too, think how beautiful it will look in your landscape, whether it is a cottage style, backyard pollinator habitat, or simply a modern 2020 garden.