Close up of flowerhead
Photo Credit: James L. Reveal. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

Close up of flowerhead Photo Credit: James L. Reveal. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

Flowerhead panicle
Photo Credit: John Hilty, Illinoiswildflowers.info

Flowerhead panicle Photo Credit: John Hilty, Illinoiswildflowers.info

Plant Habit
Photo Credit: T Beckjord

Plant Habit Photo Credit: T Beckjord

Ruby Tiger Moth Phragmatobia fuliginosa
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Ruby Tiger Moth Phragmatobia fuliginosa Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Purple Joe Pye Weed

Eutrochium purpureum

Originally I would not have considered including either species of Joe Pye Weed in my garden – too tall and overwhelming. But I have changed my mind and I now love it against my back fence.

Growing 4-6 feet tall or so in a 3-4 foot-wide clump, this Joe Pye species adds a lush vertical statement at the back of the garden in late summer. The flowerhead, that blooms for about a month from late summer to early fall, consists of a group of panicles of mauve to pale pink smaller flower clusters that together are more dome shaped than flat topped.

Leaves of 3-4 are arranged in a characteristic whorl around the stem with the node where they attach colored purplish giving the plant its name. Depending on the genetics of the individual plant, the leaves may be vanilla scented.

In the wild, Purple Joe Pye Weed grows in partially shaded conditions such as open woods and savannas, and partially shaded riverbanks making it a good plant to add in oak woodlands once buckthorn thickets are cleared.

In gardens, it prefers the same light conditions and a moist to mesic loam soil. In my garden it is planted against the fence on the west side of the yard in an area that is wettest in the spring and that is partially shaded both by the fence and a Norway maple in a neighboring yard. It has done beautifully year after year. Another species, Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) prefers more sun and a moist to wet silty/sandy loam soil that is mineral rich.

Several shorter selections of Spotted Joe Pye Weed are on the market including Eupatorium (Eutrochium) maculatum ‘Phantom’ and ‘Gateway.’ Another shorter selection that grows to only 3-4 feet, Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’, is derived from a coastal Joe Pye species from Pennsylvania. Studies of the pollinator impacts regarding these cultivars have not been published. 

This time of year I am beginning to watch the house finches raid the seed with excited chirping conversation.   Flowers produce nectar and pollen that attract a wide variety of native bees, butterflies, moths and skippers. One of the moth species, the Ruby Tiger Moth, is quite beautiful.

One caution is that the seeds of this native are wind dispersed so you may find little Joe Pyes popping up elsewhere in the garden, particularly if you have areas of bare soil. If you don’t want them where they’ve landed, pull them while they are small. In spite of this, I consider Purple Joe Pye Weed to be a worthwhile addition to the garden when planted where its size and structure can be shown to advantage.