Beautiful Joe Pye Weed – How To Grow And How Useful Is It?

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Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) is a ubiquitous perennial plant named after a Native American renowned in his time for using many parts of the plant in creating medicines to cure fevers, typhus, and other illnesses.

This hardy native perennial grows in great abundance across North America, in the eastern US, the New England area, and southern Canada. It does well in USDA zones 4 through 9.

monarch butterfly on Joe Pye WeedPin

Joe Pye Weed emerges later in Spring than many other plants but earlier than the really late species such as Butterfly Weed.

Eupatorium maculatum ‘Little-Pye’ is an extremely dwarf variety that brings Joe Pye Weed into the smallest of gardens or even containers! Although there are shorter varieties available.

It grows enthusiastically in damp settings such as:

  • Ditches and along roadsides
  • Thickets and woodlands
  • Swamps and wetlands
  • The banks of streams
  • Bogs and swales
  • Damp Meadows

It serves as an attractive, cheery, sprawling plant with a number of uses in the landscape. However, plant owners must not allow it to become invasive.

In this article, we will describe the various types of Joe Pye Weed and provide advice for making good use of it in your yard and garden. Read on to learn more.

What Does Joe Pye Weed Look Like?

The plant comes as a member of the aster family. It appears as the tallest perennial herb in North America.

Typically, it stands between 4′ feet and 7′ feet tall and measures a spread of approximately 2′ feet.

Joe Pye weed in full bloom, attract pollinators with tall, mauve-colored flower clustersPin

The USDA lists three original species of this plant. They include:

#1 – Eastern Joe Pye Weed

This plant grows 2′-5′ feet high. The Joe Pye Weed leaf can vary in size from 2″ wide by 7″ long to 3″x9″ depending on species.

Joe Pye weed leaves look quite narrow at the base and widen dramatically toward the center.

The stem bears small purple spots, and the flowers show a dusty pink color.

#2 – Spotted Joe Pye Weed

This variety, also known as eutrochium maculatum, grows 2′- 6′ feet tall and has thick purple or speckled stems.

The tender leaves grow in groups of four or five and are lance-shaped with sharp serrated edges.

The flowers range from pale lavender to deep purple. You will find this butterfly species in moist places that have high lime content on the soil surface.

#3 – Sweet Scented Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

This plant is sometimes referred to as “Queen of the Meadow” or “Gravel Root”.\

The shallow fibrous roots make it easy to dig up and transplant to new locations, or just split.

Each plant will have numerous stems arising from a wide crown with a fibrous root system.

It holds green stems with purple leaf nodes. Its vanilla-scented leaves grow in groups of three or four and have sharply serrated edges.

On the other hand, its flowers look pale pink or purple. This variety grows naturally in open woods and thickets.

#4 – Hollow Stemmed Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)

The stems of the eupatorium fistulosum seem purplish and, true to its name, hollow inside.

Leaves grow in groups of 4-7 and spread narrowly with softly rounded serrations along the edges.

Some numerous species of Joe Pye Weed can become aggressive or invasive due to its rhizome roots, seed heads, and size.

The flowers resemble berries and look attractive in a bright pinkish-purple shade.

This original species grows in moist woods and bottomlands in the American Northeast.

#5 – Three-Nerved Joe Pye Weed

The true leaves of the joe pye weed plant of numerous species hold a pair of large veins rising from the base of the center vein.

Stems seem purple-speckled. Also, the tender leaves appear thick, bumpy, and oval-shaped and appear in groups of three or four.

In particular, visual inspection of the stalk and the number of whorled leaves can generally confirm and identify a specific species of Joe Pye Weed.

Moreover, the joe pye weed flowers emanate a deep purple color. Anyone can find this smallish variety (3.5′ feet tall) = in moist soil areas with acidic and fertile soil conditions along the Atlantic coast of the US and Canada.

Joe Pye Weed Companion Plants include anything that can grow in moist potting soil to medium soil and tolerate full sun or partial shade.

#6 – Steele’s Joe Pye Weed

This variety looks quite a bit like Sweet Joe Pye Weed. However, it possesses very broad hairy leaves and stems. This type grows naturally in the woods of the Appalachian Mountains.

All types bear purple, mauve, or pink flowers producing copious joe pye weed seeds strewn by the wind.

The stems seem sturdy and deep purple or purple flecked. In addition, the foliage generally appears dark green with varying degrees of saw-toothed edging.

When left to grow on its own, this adaptable plant spreads with great abundance and enthusiasm.

It also puts on a spectacular show in the mid to late summer and into the early autumn.

To grow it successfully in your cottage garden, you need quite a bit of space because of its rapid spread and tendency to sprawl.

Using Joe Pye Weed In The Landscape

These native perennials grow easily and well. It also makes a marvelous addition to a butterfly garden, hummingbird, and beer garden.

The purplish flowers smell sweet with a scent reminiscent of vanilla and are extremely attractive to these beneficial pollinators.

Eupatorium purpureum is especially recommended for those wishing to attract and support Monarch butterflies.

Other butterflies, especially those that get attracted to Joe Pye Weed flowers, include black swallowtails and Tiger swallowtails.

Because these plants do grow tall (upwards of 6′ feet) and thick, they also make an excellent spring and summertime privacy screen. Planting them in a hedge along property lines makes a smart use.

Also, this plant provides an excellent backdrop for a perennial garden center consisting of shorter types of self-seeding annuals or a bulb garden.

Because these plants blossom in the late summer and into the fall, they can take up where your early bloomers left off. In this way, you can make sure of having pretty flower heads throughout the growing season.

If you struggle with damp, low spots in your yard, Joe Pye Weed serves as the perfect choice. It prefers average-to-rich soil surfaces and is consistently moist potting soil, and it does quite well in areas of full sunlight to partial shade.

Make sure your garden bed or another area of the landscape is already prepared with compost and moist potting soil to receive the new plant.

But when you’re growing in poor or average soil in a rain garden bed, they will benefit from a side dressing of compost or an application of slow-release fertilizer.

Full sun is definitely preferred because plants may grow excessively leggy and limp in light shade. 

With the right conditions, you can count on this sturdy survivor to grow well for you and provide both beauty and function.

Related Reading – Salvia Plant: How To Care For The Perennial Meadow Sage

Is It Really A Weed?

The term butterfly weed is open to interpretation. Eupatorium purpureum comes from the wild, and one can quickly consider it a wildflower.

It does grow natively, yet it submits to many positive uses and can make an excellent addition to a typical yard, a flower garden, and a useful butterfly garden flower.

Leaf beetles, hoppers, and special aphids all consume parts of this plant.

Leaf-cutter bees, Bumblebees, long-tongue bees, and tiny bee flies all visit.

This is a pollinator favorite that does great in moist potting soil to medium soil conditions and brings in beneficial insects.

And these beneficial insects are food for other insects….and all part of the food chain!

And they feed larger insects and birds, which helps the overall ecosystem.

Joe Pye Weed As Medicine

In natural medicine, you can use hollow Joe Pye Weed in a number of different ways.

The roots are considered especially beneficial and are gathered to be dried, ground, and brewed as an herbal tea tonic.

The plant holds a long history of use in Native American and backwoods medicine.

You can use the roots, tender leaves, and beautiful flowers of all popular varieties to create teas that are said to address problems as diverse as:

  • Respiratory Problems
  • Bladder Stones
  • Kidney Stones
  • Rheumatism
  • Impotence
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Gout

The plant contains immune-boosting polysaccharides, and stimulating the immune system may help the body to overcome fevers and illnesses on its own.

Dry The Flowers, Leaves & Roots

Sweet Joe Pye Weed, with its vanilla-scented leaves, is the best choice for making medicinal and relaxing teas.

To use the true leaves and the stems as a medicinal tea, you should harvest them during the mid-summer prior to the opening of the flower buds.

Hang them or lay them out in an area that has good air circulation. When completely dry, you can store them for use as a medicinal tea.

To make a pleasant-tasting herbal tea, harvest the beautiful flowers and dry them separately.

You can also use dried roots to make medicinal tea. Harvest them in the autumn. Dry them and grind them to steep them as tea.

Joe Pye Weed Uses

The foliage and sturdy stems, also known as “purple bone set,” repel mosquitoes when burned.

It can be gathered and dried and bundled be burned as a natural mosquito repellent.

Because of their deep pigments, the seeds and the white flowers also have uses in the creation of natural textile dyes in the partial shades of red and pink.

The pretty flower clusters and sturdy, deep purple stems make a nice addition to cut flower arrangements.


Joe Pye Weed spreads via a rugged and extensive underground rhizomatous root system.

It is also self-sowing. If you want an abundant and ever-growing stand of it you need do nothing.

The root system will travel with wild abandon, and when the purple flowers go to seed, the seeds will scatter on their own.

Before you know it, you will find yourself welcoming (or shaking your fist at) abundant new plants!

You can also grow seedlings on your own by gathering and saving the seed heads. You can also purchase them at your local nursery or online.

Keep the seeds chilled for approximately a week-to-ten days, and then plant them in a light and airy seed starting medium.

Cover the seeds lightly and loosely, or simply press them into the surface of the wet and poor soil.

Keep in mind that in nature, they sprout and grow without being covered at all. They need exposure to light in order to sprout properly.

You can also hand-sow the seed heads directly onto the prepared soil surface early in the spring or late in the autumn.

Seed should be winter sowed or direct sowed for best results. Like most herbaceous perennials, Joe Pye Weed will die back in winter.

Frost will cause the plant to begin dying back to the ground for the winter. During the cold winter months, these plants can tolerate temperatures that drop to -13° degrees Fahrenheit (-25 °C).

Just make sure the seed maintains good contact with the moist soil. You may wish to rake over the area lightly to prevent predation by birds.

The plant is tolerant of clay soil and wet soil, and mature plants even have some tolerance for short periods of drought.

Eutrochium fistulosum Joe Pye Weed generally prefers moist to medium soil.

Propagation by division is also possible. In the early spring, you will notice that the center of older and mature plants may have died back. When you see this, you need to divide the plant.

Dig up the whole clump and remove the dead material from the center. What remains will be new growth, which you can separate and plant in pots or directly into the ground.

You can also purchase Joe Pye Weed potted plants at your local nursery.

You’re most likely to find the cultivated version (E. maculatum), which appears a bit bushier and produces more flower heads than the wild variety. It also differs from the native plant in that it does not grow quite as tall.

Taking Care Of Joe Pye Weed

As a native plant, taking care of Joe Pye Weed makes it an easy task. If you plant it well in a good location, it will go along merrily growing, blooming, and spreading regardless of heat and drought.

It prefers occasional deep watering to sprinkle, and it will appreciate a thick layer of mulch to help hold soil moisture around the root ball.

You should divide Joe Pye Weed every 3-5 years as if the root mass gets too large, the center will die. Our process for moving Joe Pye Weed mimics that of Liatris or Echinacea.

Use a pruning or camping saw to cut up the root mass in 2-4 pieces, depending on the size. Lift out the root mass.

With that said, it can adapt to almost any soil condition, including clay and wet soil.

This will keep the root mass from growing so large that the center of the plant dies off because it’s no longer getting the nutrients it needs.

Thrust the spade into the ground at a right angle, moving all around the plant until the root mass can be lifted.

Preventing Joe Pye Weed Invasion

Although this plant is not officially considered invasive, it certainly can feel that way. It spreads quickly underground and sows its seed heads far and wide with the help of the wind.

To prevent Joe Pye Weed plants from overtaking your yard, everyone recommends deadheading the old blooms.

This will not only increase the number of intricate blooms you and your beneficial pollinators can enjoy, but it will also prevent the development of seeds. Make sure to cut back the compound blooms completely before they go to seed in the autumn.

You can prevent the excessive spread of the rhizomes by digging them up and dividing them regularly to keep them in their place.

You can also keep the stray plants under control by simply mowing them down where you don’t want them before they get too big.

Enjoy A Breezy No Care Garden!

If you love the idea of a perennial garden coming back year after year with little or no attention from you, Joe Pye weed should definitely make it at the top of your plant list.

By combining it with other vigorous, flowering native and tall plants, you can create a yard requiring minimal care, attracts beautiful birds, bees, and butterflies, and presents a luxurious, rampant appearance.

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