The Quiet Giant—Eutrichium purpureum
Joe Pye Weed is sometimes called the queen of the meadow, and yet it gets about as much respect as a roadside weed. Great garden designers will tell you it is an unused gem. Travel across the Atlantic, and you will hear loud praises for its colossal impact as a background plant in European perennial borders.
In America, Joe Pye Weed hangs out in right-of-way thickets and along natural stream buffer woodlands. It is really tall for a flowering perennial, growing nine or ten feet! Some people think perennials should grow to only three feet or so, to fit into a refined flower border. Thus, the reputation of a weedy plant. Maybe it is underrated because it is suited to big landscapes and there are not many of them around anymore, or maybe it is its associated with the old Eupatorium family (bonesets and thoroughworts), a group of wayside volunteers of mixed refinement.
What if, you are looking for a strong, tall, midsummer floral background plant that butterflies love, which takes heat and drought, and is native to the eastern two-thirds of the United States? Joe Pye Weed fits the bill. It is the ultimate cottage garden plant, and grows on incredibly strong stems. That means no staking required for a nine-foot flower! It smells like vanilla, and the blooms pop out at nose height. Joe Pye Weed makes a great plant for standing portrait photos. It is easy to grow and a tough survivor during challenging weather—cold, moist, hot, and dry. The flower color is a mauve-pink-lavender mix. If you want a most sophisticated floral arrangement on a grand scale, this is a dramatic choice. The blooms last for several weeks in the garden.
Joe Pye Weed is often listed as a medicinal plant, curing rheumatism, fixing respiratory disorders, as a diuretic, and for calming stomach ailments, but that is what they say about every medicinal plant. My suspicion is the toxic results of ingesting wild plants may simply keep your mind off your original health complaint. No thanks to that!
If you insist on smaller plants, there are some dwarf cultivars available, like ‘Little Joe’. All the varieties like decent soil—no wet feet. It is cold hardy to Canada, which is incredible for a perennial flower.
Celebrate the grand scale of this unfairly shunned, attractive perennial performer. Eupatorium purpureum, as it used to be known, deserves more appreciation. Use it for reliable, strong visual impact.