This big guy is the centerpiece of my butterfly garden. It is called Joe Pye Weed. It is considered a wildflower in many states and butterflies love to eat the nectar it produces. Joe Pye is considered a weed (as I understand it) because it is invasive. In other words, if not properly managed it will take over your garden. Please note, many preferred butterfly attracting plants are considered “weeds” (Butterfly weed, Goldenrod, Milkweed, even Bee Balm).
The picture at the head of my blog is of monarch butterflies feeding on Joe Pye Weed blooms.
In the south, you can see Joe Pye growing alongside the road. Even along expressways! In late summer you will see it, along with Goldenrod coloring the sides of the road.
But, Joe Pye isn’t for everyone or every garden. For one it is a towering beast. Healthy Joe Pye can reach over 10 feet tall. Mine was transplanted from someone’s private property last fall. When I transplanted it, I had only 3 plants and each stood about 3 foot tall. After just one year of growth, 3 plants has turned into about 8 and my tallest plants are close to 7 feet tall! Clearly not everyone wants this in their garden. Even the most enthusiastic butterfly gardener may shy away from Joe Pye
While coneflower and black-eyed Susan’s are fan favorites because of their classic pattern and color, Joe Pye has this somewhat awkward long “Jack and the beanstalk” appearance. It’s long green trunk, which is actually a thick hard stem, has many broad leaves hanging from it. I have found these leaves serving as resting spots for bees and butterflies.
Joe Pye itself doesn’t bloom until late summer. The picture below shows the buds at the top, The blooms vary in color but most common is the purple/pink variety. Blooms will last several weeks, as summer begins to fade.
Care and maintenance: because of its height, it is good to have a solid structure behind Joe Pye. It is not uncommon for a strong summer wind to snap these plants in half. Also consider staking them in the spring. Joe Pye is hardy and can handle many different types of soil. However, due to its height and need for a strong root anchoring, you are going to want soil that drains well.
When October rolls around and the blooms have dropped, it is suggested to cut the plant back to about 6 inches above soil. This is also an ideal time to divide the plant or even relocate it.
If you are unable to get wild Joe Pye, I recommend going to a reputable nursery to get your plants. You may pay a little more but the quality of the plant will be worth it (not that box stores do not have quality plants…). Plus, Joe Pye is often not sold at major home improvement stores)
So if you want something tall and magnificent, with little care necessary, I highly suggest the somewhat unknown Joe Pye Weed! Happy Gardening!