Tuesday, January 11, 2011

E is for Eupatorium purpureum

Eupatorium purpureum is such a twisted name for the common Joe Pye Weed.  Joe Pye sounds like someone who got off a boxcar in 1940 at the West Jersey layover.  Eupatorium purpureum sounds like a Greek statue at a botanical garden.

In truth, The genus Eupatorium is named for the Greek Mithridates VI Eupator, King of Pontus, who was an enemy of Rome in Asia Minor and lived from 132-63 B.C.

Lore has it that Joe Pye was a Native American Indian who used the plant as a fever medicine.  It's description can still be found in herbalists data.  I don't advocate using any plant for alternate medicine but I may try drying the Joe Pye leaves and burning them as a fly repellent at our next picnic. 

Joe-Pye is known by the common names Queen of the Meadow, gravel root, kidney root, mist-flower, snakeroot and purple boneset.  It has varieties from dwarf to ten foot tall. 

This lovely perennial is so under-used in gardens it's almost foreign to most gardeners.  I've always enjoyed that odd perennial and if not on the expensive side (Joe Pye isn't), I often give them a try. 
This is my Joe Pye Weed in it's original garden setting.  Since planted, a Red Twig Dogwood and an ornamental grass have decided to spread and the JPW was in too much shade.  Last year I moved and hopefully it will thank me with loads of flowers and healthy abandon. 
A few facts:  Hardy in Zones 3 to 9, it needs lots of sun and room to spread.  It likes slightly moist rich soil but once established will live in less than ideal soil - although it won't bloom as well.  It forms a loose looking plant averaging 4 foot tall.  It looks especially well in a naturalized or informal garden.  A native wildflower, it has it's slow easy way of doing things.

The wildflower foliage is dark green (sometimes spotted) and the flowers are in shades ranging from pink to purple.  It will naturalize easily and does well if planted where it can informally spread.   Sources call it a herb, a wildflower, a butterfly/bee attractor and an ornamental.  All are right.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Monarch, and the Tawny-edged Skipper are just some of butterflies known to love Joe-Pye.  Notice the little bee on the first photo.  It's also attractive to hummingbirds and wasps.

It flowers in the fall when most everything else has finished and continues until the first hard frost. Some will pinch back in the Spring for a shorter/bushier plant, others will stake the stems and I simply let them go willy-nilly.  Different varieties have different colored flowers and a few are fragrant.  They do well when picked for vase use or dried.

I cut the dried stems down to the ground in Spring.  Joe Pye is late to emerge and leaving the stems until Spring is a reminder where NOT to dig.  It can be grown from seed or plant sets - and divides easily.  Plant some other short and thick perennials around it as a brace or to cover the long stems.  Mine has never been invasive but there is that warning on some publications.

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