Joe Pye Weed, also known as Eutrochium purpureum or “the Queen of the Meadow,” is a common butterfly favorite. This plant easily grows up to 7 feet in shady woodland and savannah settings. Its leaves have a sweet vanilla scent, and its flowers are typically a pale pink or purple hue.
This wildflower grows across most of central and eastern United States and into southern Canada. It has many medicinal properties, and has been used by Native Americans for centuries to cure a range of ailments. It’s actually named after a Native herbalist (Jopi) from the 1800s, who was renowned for treating illnesses like typhus and fever with this herb.
Joe Pye Weed Varieties
Quite a few varieties of Joe Pye Weed are available today. They all range in size, from taller plants to dwarf versions, light foliage to dark, and white flowers rather than pink. Newer varieties may be easier to control because they won’t reproduce as quickly, but they’re all used by gardeners to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and other helpful pollinators.
Recent years have led to a few name changes among different varieties of this plant. The genus they used to be classified in, Eupatorium, was broken down into smaller, more accurate groups.
The most common types of Joe Pye Weed include:
- Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum): This variety grows up to 6 feet tall, with clusters of purple-spotted flowers or speckled stems. It enjoys soil that has high concentrations of lime.
- Hollow-stemmed Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fitulosum): True to its name, this type offers hollow stems. It typically grows in moist woodlands, and the flowers resemble pink or purple berries.
- Little Joe (Eupatorium purpureum): A dwarf variety with mauve or purple flowers. This smaller version will only reach around 3-4 feet tall and blooms during the middle of summer. It’s best for planting zones 3-7.
- Gateway (Eupatorium purpureum): Another shorter variety better for zones 3-7, this type offers maroon-colored stems and reaches heights of 4-5 feet tall.
- Chocolate (Eupatorium rugosum): Marked by darker leaves and maroon stems, this variety features white blooms instead of pink.
- Three-Nerved Joe Pye Weed (E. dubium): Comes with purple speckled stems, thick leaves, and deep purple flowers. This small variety will grow up to 3-4 feet tall along the Atlantic coast.
- Steele (E. steelei): Commonly grows in the woodlands of the Appalachian Mountains, and spreads easily. It has purple or pink flowers, and broad, hairy leaves.
How to Plant Sweet Joe Pye Weed
You can gather wild seeds to scatter, or purchase seedlings from your local garden nursery. You’ll want to chill the seeds for about a week to 10 days prior to planting, and a light seed starting mix will provide better results.
To begin planting your own Joe Pye Weed, press the seeds into the soil’s surface using your finger, then lightly cover the seeds with soil. You can also hand-sow seeds directly onto prepared soil, as the plant can grow on its own as long as it’s in an ideal location. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find this plant growing along the roadside and spreading on its own.
There are also potted Joe Pye plants available for sale at most nurseries, where you’re likely to find the more cultivated and bushier E. maculatum variety. Although using this method results in plants that may not grow as tall, the variety does offer more flowers.
Best time to plant: Joe Pye Weed will bloom between July and September, so the best time to plant this perennial is in the spring or late Autumn (October). Potted plants should be transplanted when they’re well rooted in early May or June.
Planting zone: This wildflower grows best in USDA zones 4–9. Zones 2-3 may also be able to grow certain varieties.
Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade. Although this sturdy plant can grow in a shady location, full sun is more ideal as long as the soil maintains moisture. Otherwise, too much shade or dryness can lead the plants to grow limp. Some varieties, however, such as Wild Golden Glow and Tall Bellflower do better in full shade.
Soil: Moist, rich and well-draining soil is ideal, and it can handle most soil pH balances.
Germination time: Uncovered seeds will receive the light they need to germinate, which takes an average of 2-3 weeks.
Space between seedlings: Place each seed about 1-inch deep and around 24-30 inches apart.
Best Ways to Plant
Joe Pye Weed is a large plant that grows up to 2-3 feet wide and 7-8 feet tall, so it requires plenty of growing room. This makes it perfect to use in a privacy hedge along your property or border for your deck area. Plant it in a spring or summertime garden, use it as a backdrop for smaller annuals, or place a few to take over where your early booms leave off for a gorgeous garden all year long.
This plant will also thrive when planted in a damp location. As such, it’s perfect if your yard contains a low spot or struggles with rainwater runoff from your gutters. Because moist soil is ideal, you won’t need to worry about constant watering.
Its sweet-smelling leaves and flowers will attract plenty of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees as well, which makes this plant perfect in a pollinator-attracting garden. You can attract monarch butterflies in particular, along with tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails.
Finally, you can grow cultivated varieties in containers by simply transplanting a store-bought plant at the same depth, and watering well until you see new growth.
How to Care for Joe Pye Weed
Caring for Joe Pye Weed is easy. With the right conditions, expect the plant to prosper and spread on its own. Water is the most important aspect, which is why it often grows naturally around ponds, streams, and marshes.
Maintain moist soil and water the plant well rather than misting, especially just after planting and during the hot summer months. Never allow the soil to dry out for longer than a couple of days.
This plant will work in a full sun location only if it receives the right amount of moisture. If you notice the edge of the leaves yellowing, your plant is receiving too much sun. Dry soil will also lead to scorching on the edges of the leaves.
Mulching: A thick layer of mulch will help retain moisture near the plant’s roots.
Fertilizing: When planted in a rich soil like that found in the woods, this plant doesn’t require fertilizer.
Pruning: To help control the plant from spreading and growing quite large, you’ll need to prune the plants back to about 4-8 inches during the spring to make way for new growth. If you cut the stems back by about half or pinch the growth buds in June or early summer, your plant will produce more stems and flowers the following season.
The most common problems with this plant will come up if the location isn’t moist enough, or doesn’t receive enough sunlight. This can lead to diseases such as powdery mildew. This mildew won’t kill the plant, but it can appear unsightly and affect the plant’s performance and growth.
Overall, it doesn’t suffer much from serious insects or disease issues. You may notice caterpillars and moths feeding on the leaves, or insects like leaf-mining flies and their larvae may hang around.
Best Companion Plants
Joe Pye Weed works well in a meadow alongside other perennials, woodland plants, or ornamental grasses. Common companion plants include:
- Eastern bee balm
- Feather reed grass
- Mountain mint
- Russian sage
How to Harvest and Store Joe Pye Weed
Leaves and blooms are harvested during the summer before the flower buds begin to open. Dry the plant by hanging it upside-down, and store it for later use. Harvest the roots in the fall, and use either the dried roots or the fresh flowers to make herbal tea.
This plant has been used as a natural medicine for centuries, and can treat many ailments. No matter what variety, the leaves, roots, and flowers are all used for healing purposes.
The roots are often considered the most beneficial part, and they’re harvested in the fall, then dried and ground for use in herbal tea. The plant’s immune-boosting properties stimulate the immune system’s natural process, aiding the body when it comes to fevers. It also helps a range of illnesses including:
- Bladder Stones
- Kidney Stones
- Respiratory Issues
You can also burn the dried foliage and stems to repel mosquitoes and deer. Additionally, use the seeds and flowers to dye textiles red or pink shades.
As a huge fan of medicinal cures like herbal teas, I love trying out different tonics and natural remedies. Growing Joe Pye Weed at home allows you instant access to make a helpful herbal tea whenever fever strikes, and it’s used to treat the flu or sore throat. However, young children and pregnant women should not use this natural aid.
Always do your research before taking any herbal teas, tinctures, or supplements, just in case.