The Ultimate Guide to Joe Pye Weed – What you NEED to know


If you are looking for some mid-to-late season bloomers for your garden that are beloved by butterflies, you MUST consider Joe Pye Weed! This is a pollinator favorite that does great in moist to medium conditions and brings in beneficial insects.

Sweet Joe Pye Weed. Credit Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid

This article will be a gardening ‘how-to’ for growing and caring for Joe Pye Weed. It will cover a large number of topics. I’ve created the digital table of contents below to help you in your learning about this wonderful plant:

In this article:

What is Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed is a common name given to 5 species wildflower of the Eutrochium genus that are native to North America. They are perennials that grow from 4-10′ tall in full sun or partial shade, and blooms approximately 1 month in mid-Summer to Fall. An ecologically important plant, it attracts numerous bees and butterflies.

Two Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies on Hollow Joe Pye Weed
  • Hollow Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) is the tallest of the Joe Pye Weeds, reaching 10′ tall and blooming late Summer to early Fall
  • Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is the most widely distributed, covering most of the Eastern United States, from the Missouri River Valley Eastward. And reaching 6′ tall. This species of Joe Pye Weed is even native to Florida.
  • Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) mainly covers the Northern half of the country, and blooms late Summer to early Fall, reaching 6′ in height.
  • Joe Pye Thoroughwort (Eutrochium dubium), also known as coastal plain Joe Pye Weed, is primarily native to the Coastal regions of the Atlantic seaboard from Georgia to Maine.
  • Steele’s Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium steelei) blooms in mid Summer, and has a small native range in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, and one county in Georgia.

In the year 2000 all Joe Pye Weed were removed from the genus Eupatorium and placed in a new genus, Eutrochium. You may see some other online references that still refer to species of Joe Pye Weed in the Eupatorium genus. [1]

Joe Pye Weed Reference Table

Scientific NameEutrochium pupurea, Eutrochium maculatum,
Eutrochium fistulosum
Common Name(s)Joe Pye Weed, Hollow Joe Pye Weed, Sweet Joe Pye Weed, Purple Joe Pye Weed, Spotted Joe Pye Weed, Queen of the Meadow
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern United States, USDA Zones 4-9
Bloom TimeMid-summer to early Fall
Bloom Duration, Color4 weeks, white/pink/purple
Height3′-9′ tall (1m -3m)
Spacing / Spread2′-4′ (60-120 cm)
Light RequirementsFull sun to full shade (dependent on species)
Soil TypesClay to sandy loam.
MoistureMoist to medium [3]
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsRuby Tiger Moth, Dusky Groundling, Red Groundling, Eupatorium Borer Moth,
Joe Pye Weed Borer,
Three-Lined Flower Moth

Joe Pye Weed Benefits

The benefits of Joe Pye Weed are the beauty it brings, the ecological value to pollinators and other beneficial insects, and that it blooms in certain environments where few other species can grow.

Beauty

Joe Pye Weed is beautiful! The multiple blooms resemble soft pink/white clouds towering above most other plants. It’s height make the plant tall and handsome, like a pillar of strength in your garden. Although there are shorter varieties available.

Pollinators love Joe Pye Weed

I’m a member of many gardening groups, and Joe Pye Weed is consistently mentioned as being one of THE BEST plants at attracting butterflies. Joe Pye Weed attracts all kinds of butterflies from small skippers to large Swallowtails, and even Monarchs.

Additionally, Joe Pye Weed will attract numerous bees. As a pollen and nectar producer, you will attract numerous species from large bumblebees to small bee flies. [2]

An ecologically important plant

Besides pollinators, Joe Pye Weed attracts other beneficial insects. Tree hoppers, leaf beetles, gnats all feed on different parts of Joe Pye Weed. And these insects are food for other insects….and all part of the food chain!

Some smaller birds also eat the seeds of Joe Pye Weed, which further attracts wildlife to your yard.

Versatile garden uses

Joe Pye Weed is a showy plant that can grow where not many other showy plants can grow! It can tolerate constantly moist soil with occasional flooding. Additionally it will grow just fine in a prairie or meadow, but isn’t drought tolerant. And can grow in deep forests, seemingly in full shade (depending on the specific species of Joe Pye Weed). [4]

Personally, I’ve observed 10′ specimens growing in wetlands, and along roadsides in the Appalachian mountains. I’ve seen it growing in openings of thick hardwood forests. And I’ve witnessed it growing in open meadows in full sun.

You are looking at a specimen that is more than 8′ tall, that is bordering a wetland!

Medicinal Uses

Joe Pye Weed was used medicinally by Native American tribes. There are over 100 documented uses by numerous tribes. Joe Pye Weed was used to treat a number of ailments from the common cold to kidney problems.

Identification and Characteristics of Joe Pye Weed

Sweet Joe Pye Weed Stalk. Note the purple color at the leaf junction.

Stalk of Joe Pye Weed

The stalk of Joe Pye Weed will vary from light green and smooth for Sweet and Hollow Joe Pye Weed, to purple or spotted for Spotted Joe Pye Weed.

Stalks are round and erect, rising 4-10′ tall depending on species and conditions. In general there will be no branching, except for the upper 1/3 of the plant near the flower heads.

Joe Pye Weed Foliage and Leaves

There will be whorls of leaves spaced along the stem of Joe Pye Weed. Whorls are where several leaves are arrayed around the diameter of a stalk. Whorls will have 3-7 leaves depending on the specific species.

Hollow Joe Pye Weed can have 7 whorled leaves.

The Joe Pye Weed leaf can vary in size by 2″ wide by 7″ long, to 3″x9″ depending on species. They are lanceolate to elliptical in shape, and have serrated edges.

Flower of Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed flowers consist of panicles (small clusters) of compound blooms that are 1×1.5″. The overall flower head can consist of a single, to many panicles. Individual flowers are 8 mm long, an quite narrow.

Generally there are multiple panicles forming a flower head that is 3-6″ wide and flat for Spotted Joe Pye Weed. While Sweet Joe Pye Weed is 2-6″ and hemispherical or dome like. And Hollow Joe Pye Weed flower heads can be up to 9″ diameter, and hemispherical by 9″ tall.

Joe Pye Weed Bloom

Root system of Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed root system is generally fibrous, although rhizomes occur with Hollow Joe Pye Weed, and sometimes with Spotted Joe Pye Weed. Roots are generally shallow, which makes sense considering the preference for moist soil.

Spotted Joe Pye Weed. Credit: Ryan Hodnett

How to identify a specific species of Joe Pye Weed

The three most common species of Joe Pye Weed (Hollow, Spotted, and Sweet) can be differentiated by examining the stalk, leaves, and flower head. In particular, visual inspection of stalk and number of whorled leaves can generally confirm and identify a specific species of Joe Pye Weed.

Also, Hollow Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) will have a hollow stalk, as is implied.

Common NameSpeciesStalk / StemLeavesFlower Head ShapeMature Height
Hollow Joe Pye WeedEutrochium fistulosumLight green, or purple smooth & hairless5-7 whorled leavesHemispherical4′-10′
Spotted Joe Pye WeedEutrochium maculatumPurple, or green with purple spots4-5 whorled leavesFlat, or nearly flat3′-5′
Sweet Joe Pye WeedEutrochium purpureumLight green and smooth, but at leaf junctions purple w/ hairs3-4 whorled leavesHemispherical3′-7′

Grow and Care for Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed will not require special care if it is planted in its preferred growing conditions.

Sunlight Requirements

Hollow and Spotted Joe Pye Weed like full sun to partial shade. The more sun it receives, the taller and showier (more blooms) the plant will produce. Sweet Joe Pye Weed would like a more dappled sun, part-shade lighting.

You can find a use for Joe Pye Weed in many garden settings. I have seen very healthy Sweet Joe Pye Weed growing in nearly full shade. But the plants might be a bit shorter with less sunlight. But don’t let that dissuade you!

Moisture Requirements

Joe Pye Weed generally prefers moist to medium-moist soil. Many types can tolerate occasional flooding. [3]

Typically, Joe Pye Weed is not drought tolerant. Sweet Joe Pye Weed can tolerate some drier conditions, but most species like moist, to medium-moist soil.

Soil Requirements

Hollow Joe Pye Weed can grow in clay to loam soil. Sweet Joe Pye Weed can grow in loam

Joe Pye Weed Natural Habitat

The natural habitat where you will find Joe Pye Weed is typically moist soil in full or partial sun, with some organic matter present in the soil. I’ve observed them in powerline cuts through the forest, deep in the Appalachian Mountains along streams, drainage ditches, and open meadows.

The presence of Joe Pye Weed can indicate a wetland, as they sometimes grow along the edges. They are able to do this as they can tolerate moist soil and occasional flooding (most types).

When does Joe Pye Weed emerge in Spring?

Joe Pye Weed emerges later in Spring than many other plants, but earlier than the really late species such as Butterfly Weed. In my own experience, it emerges a week or two after you can see shoots from Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea).

Joe Pye Weed emerging in Spring

Fall/Winter Care of Joe Pye Weed

Like most herbaceous perennials, Joe Pye Weed will die back in winter. In late Autumn you can trim back Joe Pye Weed without harming the plant.

However, certain beneficial insects may overwinter in Joe Pye Weed stalks. So, if you don’t mind seeing the tall stalks until warm Spring temps arrive – why not leave the plants up just as nature does?

Is Joe Pye Weed Aggressive?

Some species of Joe Pye Weed can become aggressive or invasive due to it’s rhizome roots, seed heads, and size. This would primarily be Hollow Joe Pye Weed, and occasionally Spotted Joe Pye Weed. It has been documented as very aggressive in areas that it is not native too. [5]

To prevent Joe Pye Weed from becoming aggressive, consider removing seed heads before maturing. The seed of Joe Pye Weed is scattered by the wind, and since it is surface sown can readily germinate in a mulched flower bed the following Spring.

To control the spread of Joe Pye Weed’s rhizome roots, consider using our method to stop rhizomes from spreading. It is effective, and easy to do!

How to Propagate Joe Pye Weed

To propagate Joe Pye Weed by Division

Joe Pye Weed can be divided or moved in early Spring, just after plants emerge. The shallow fibrous roots make it easy to dig up, and transplanted to new locations, or just split. 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. This process should only be completed on plants that have lived at least 3 years in the ground,. Here is the process to divide Joe Pye Weed.

  1. Wait until your Joe Pye Weed begins to emerge in Spring
  2. Use a spade to dig out the plant. Make a perimeter about 2″ beyond the edge of the plant. Place the spade at a 45-60 degree angle from horizontal, and dig toward the center of the plant. Do this all around the circumference.
  3. Lift out the root mass.
  4. Use a pruning or camping saw to cut up the root mass in 2-4 pieces, depending on the size.
  5. Replant the pieces immediately to the same depth in new areas. Or, you can store them for a few hours in a moist towel.

To move or transplant Joe Pye Weed to a new location, just follow the above steps. But don’t cut the plant up! The shallow fibrous roots make moving Joe Pye Weed an easy chore.

How to Grow Joe Pye Weed from Seed

Joe Pye Weed seeds can be germinated by pressing them into the soil surface directly in the Fall or in pots via winter sowing. The seeds require light to germinate, and need at least 30 days cold stratification.

Joe Pye Weed seeds with their tiny feathers attached.

Seed should be winter sowed or direct sowed for best results. Winter sowing containers should be placed where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade to help keep seed moist to ensure a high germination rate.

Very young seedlings of Joe Pye Weed. Seedlings are 3-9 mm across

*Note that any Joe Pye Weed seed collected, or purchased should be stored in a sealed container/bag in the refrigerator prior to direct sowing, winter sowing, or cold/moist stratification.

How to plant Joe Pye Weed Seeds

  1. Prepare a container for winter sowing, or cold stratify the seeds for 60 days
  2. Fill container with moist potting soil, leaving at least a 1/2″ gap from the top
  3. Sprinkle seed on the surface of the soil, then press into the soil, leaving the seed exposed. Joe Pye Weed seeds need exposure to light to germinate. [6]
  4. Place container in a location where it will receive morning sun, and afternoon shade. This step is important, as it helps keep the seed from drying out.
  5. Keep seeds moist until germination

Joe Pye Weed seedlings can be transplanted once they have 2-3 sets of true leaves. You should consider protecting the young seedlings from deer and rabbits with Liquid Fence. I have personally had my seedlings munched on by deer.

Mature Joe Pye Weed Seedlings

Purchase Seed

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

How to save Joe Pye Weed seeds

To save seed from Joe Pye Weed, wait about one month after flowers have bloomed and the seed head has turned brown and dry. Cut the seed head off and place in a paper bag. Store for a few days in a cool dry place, then continue to store seed in a sealed container/bag in the fridge until ready to sow.

Storing the seeds in a dry, breathable container lowers the germination rate to almost zero, in my personal experience. I’ve actually collected and then tried to germinate the seed multiple times.

When I stored seed dry, I had very little germination. Sowing fresh seed, or seed that was stored in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator provided excellent numbers of seedlings. And a high germination rate.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Joe Pye Weed

Bees

Joe Pye Weed will attract numerous bees that feed on the nectar and pollen. Leaf cutter bees, Bumblebees, long-tongue bees, and tiny bee flies all visit.

Butterflies

Joe Pye Weed attracts a large number of butterflies ranging from tiny skippers to large Swallowtails. Even Monarchs will visit on their migration. Some butterflies that Joe Pye Weed attract include the following:

In addition to butterflies, Joe Pye Weed attracts the following moths. The caterpillars of these moths have been found to feed on the foliage.

  • Ruby Tiger Moth
  • Dusky Groundling
  • Red Groundling
  • Eupatorium Borer Moth
  • Joe Pye Weed Borer
  • Three-Lined Flower Moth

There are also a number of other insects that will feed on various parts of the plant. Leaf beetles, hoppers, and special aphids all consume parts of this plant. Don’t be afraid of attracting insects to your yard! They are interested in the plants, not you! And they feed larger insects and birds, which help the overall ecosystem.

Birds attracted to Joe Pye Weed

Several smaller species of bird including Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows will eat the seed of Joe Pye Weed. So, it wil lserve as a food source

Joe Pye Weed and Deer

In general, Joe Pye Weed is deer resistant as the foliage tastes bitter. However, young tender leaves and stalks may be browsed by deer and rabbits.

Joe Pye Weed and dogs

Joe Pye Weed is now a member of the Eutrochium genus. Formally, it was a member of the Eupatorium genus, which also contains White Snakeroot, sometimes known as Eupatorium rugosum. White Snakeroot is very poisonous to any mammal, and used to be in the same genus as Joe Pye Weed.

Unfortunately, there is a veterinarian website that lists Eupatorium rugosum as ‘Joe Pye Weed’. This is not correct!

I have found no actual references that state that Joe Pye Weed, or any member of the Eutrochium genus are toxic to humans or dogs! So, don’t worry about your dog. It will be ok! Remember, this plant is generally deer and rabbit resistant because it tastes bitter!

Disease

Powdery mildew can harm Joe Pye Weed. The powder itself will prevent sunlight being absorbed by the leaf (photosynthesis). This sunlight blocking phenomena can eventually cause the plant to shed leaves effected by the powdery mildew.

You can treat Powdery mildew with fungicides, or via home remedies. Some home remedies I’ve found success with include a 1:4 solution of hydrogen peroxide (3%) and water.

Where you can buy Joe Pye Weed

Many nurseries will carry Joe Pye Weed. Most of them will be specific cultivars that have been bred to be shorter, or more disease resistant. Cultivars still come from the original species though, and I recommend that you read the Latin name to make sure you are buying a North American Native.

Varieties of Joe Pye Weed

There are a number of different types of Joe Pye Weed for sale in many garden centers. Some of the more popular varieties of Joe Pye Weed include:

NameFlower ColorHeightPowder Mildew
Resistance
Baby JoeLight Purple5′Good
Little JoePurple5′Excellent
CarinLight Pink7′Good
Bartered BrideWhite8′Good
AtropurpureumPurple5′Poor
GatewayPink6.5′Poor
Little RedPale purple6′Poor
PhantomPink/Purple4.5′Good
Purple BushPurple5′Good
RiesenschirmLight purple6′Ok
Data from Chicago Botanical Garden [7]

There are other varieties available, but these specific specimens have great resistance to powdery mildew and produce large amounts of flowers.

Uses of Joe Pye Weed

Garden Uses

In the garden, Joe Pye Weed can be used at the back of a formal flower bed as long as it isn’t too dry. It’s tall height means that it could easily shade out shorter plants, hence it’s natural place in the back. Also note that this plant is compatible with Black Walnut and can tolerate Juglone.

It’s attractiveness to butterflies make Joe Pye Weed a perfect part of a Butterfly Garden. It can be a central focal point planted en mass, or at the back edge.

However, if there is a meadow or open area that doesn’t dry out, it can be interspersed with other taller species. All plants will receive the necessary sun as it tracks overhead. So, a great addition to a wet micro-prairie.

Furthermore, it can be used in a partial shade, to nearly full shade rain garden (Sweet Joe Pye Weed in particular). As I have personally observed that specimen growing along the edges of a dense hardwood forest.

Trimming Joe Pye Weed

If you love Joe Pye Weed but don’t like how tall it can get, I have a solution! You can trim back Joe Pye Weed by 1/3 the overall height in mid June. Doing this will stimulate branching at a shorter height. This will result in a plant that is much shorter, but still produces beautiful flowers.

Joe Pye Weed as a Cut Flower or Dried Arrangement

The intricate blooms of Joe Pye Weed can make for an impressive floral display in a vase. That and the prolific blooms make Joe Pye Weed an excellent cut flower.

But in addition to a cut flower, the dried seed heads can make for beautiful detailed dried floral displays. The detail available on the feathers and seeds is so intricate and interesting. You can let your imagination run wild with the possibilities.

Companion Plants of Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed Companion Plants include anything that can grow in moist to medium soil and tolerate full sun or partial shade. I’ve observed a number of species happily growing alongside, and in the vicinity of healthy Joe Pye Weed.

For companion plants that bloom at the same time, here are some that grow great in the same conditions. I’ve seen these side by side, and grow them near my Joe Pye Weed in my own garden.

For other plants that tolerate the same conditions, but bloom before or after Joe Pye Weed include the following list:

Alternatives to Joe Pye Weed

If one wanted a plant that attracted as many butterflies as Joe Pye Weed, but didn’t want it’s potential overbearing size there are some alternatives. Both Swamp Milkweed and Boneset are good alternatives to Joe Pye Weed for pollinator attractiveness, and blooms.

Swamp Milkweed has blooms that are similar in color, and the flower heads are the same general shape. Furthermore they both like the same growing conditions. Although Swamp Milkweed will bloom earlier than some Joe Pye Weed species.

Additionally Boneset is a more compact flower that closely resembles Joe Pye Weed. In fact, Joe Pye Weed used to be classified in the same plant genus until the year 2000 as Boneset, Eupatorium.

Medicinal Uses of Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed was utilized by the Native Americans extensively. There are 50 documented uses by numerous different tribes covering a wide range of ailments. I’ve compiled a large sampling of Joe Pye Weed’s usage by native Americans below [8]:

  • Infusion of roots was used to treat:
    • Cold Medicine
    • Febrifuge
    • used for ‘dropsy’ / kidney trouble, gout
  • Decoction of dried roots was taken as a gastrointestinal aid
  • Decoction of roots to treat gonorrhea, as an antiseptic or disinfectent
  • Used as a laxative
  • Root used as a diuretic
  • Poultice of leaves applied to burns
  • Hollow stems used as a straw for drinking water from low streams

Click here to read more native plants

References:

[1] – Kuniaki, ito, Yahara, Kawahara. “Phylogeny and phyogeography in the genus Eupatorium.” The Hokkaido Center, Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, 1998.

[2] – Park, M. et al. 2015. Wild Pollinators of Eastern Apple Orchards and How to Conserve Them. 2nd ed. Cornell University, Penn State University, and the Xerces Society. (www.northeastipm.org/park2012)

[3] – Laura Triplett, “Black Lake Shoreline Vegetation Survey.” Ramsey Conservation District. 2015. https://www.vlawmo.org/files/8814/5453/3681/BlackLakeShoreviewVegSurvey_150701_1.pdf Accessed 13MAR2021.

[4] – Timothy P. Spira, Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont. p61,64,75,152,155,162,175-177 2011

[5] – Hollow Joe Pye Weed invasive in Slovenia. Slovenija: Gorenjska, Vodice, Kuharjev boršt, travnata preseka nad plinovodom v neposredni bližini poslovne cone Komenda, 46° 10′ 57″ N, 14° 31′ 50″ E. Leg. N. Jogan,29. 8. 2012. LJU.

[6] – de Queiroz, Aline Rodrigues, and Brian R Maricle. “Effects of Light Levels On Germination of Five Asteraceae Species Native to the Tallgrass Prairie.” Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, v. 122,.3-4 pp. 267-273. doi: 10.1660/062.122.0311

[7] – Richard Hawke, A Comparative Study of Joe-Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp.) and Their Relatives. Plant Evaluation Notes ISSUE 37, 2014. Chicago Botanical Garden

[8] – Native American Ethnobotany Database.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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