Archive for August 13th, 2010

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp.) is fairly common and little stands can be spotted in damp areas here and there along the local rural roads at this time of year. My favorite place to see Joe Pye, though, is along a stream a few miles from here. You can stop your car on the quiet road, and from the bridge that crosses the stream you can look up and down the river and see big thickets of Joe Pye following the flow of the water.

Joe Pye likes the middle ground, the space between the water-loving cattails and the open meadow goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace. The flower heads are a soft pinkish-purple, a gentler shade than the bright purple loosestrife that has invaded wetlands in recent years. The flowers are born in clusters at the tops of tall stems, with the fuzzy-looking blooms opening a few at a time.

Joe Pyes are big plants, and in ideal circumstances, it is said that they may reach 7 feet tall. The ones I see around here are mostly about 5 feet. The narrow, toothed leaves grow in a whorl around the stem, maximizing the sunlight each leaf receives.

The plant has long been used by herbalists and native peoples as a diuretic to treat urinary ailments. Oral tradition holds that a man named Joe Pye, now lost in the mists of time, used a concoction made from the plant to treat typhus fever. The scientific name, Eupatorium, is for another healer, the first-century Mithradates IV Eupator, king of Pontus (the southern Black Sea area), who legend holds used the plant to treat patients. Or maybe himself. Apparently, the King was something of a poisons expert. Not sure where Joe Pye entered into that.

There are a number of cultivars of eupatorium available for the garden. I used to have a variety called Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’. This plant features purplish-brown leaves and white flowers, quite attractive. This spring, I added Eupatorium ‘Phantom’, pictured above and below, to my garden. It looks very pretty with the phlox and coneflowers growing nearby. Phantom is shorter than many eupatoriums at 3 to 4 feet tall. Joe Pye is said to be very attractive to Tiger Swallowtails and fritillary butterflies, but I have yet to spot any visiting. The bees like it though.

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