by Linda Martinson
Many late summer flowers are flashy and tall, rising above the lush foliage to attract pollinators. Without a doubt, reaching full flashy-and-tall potential, the king of these late summer/early fall flowers is Joe-Pye weed, genus Eutrochium (Barratt) Lamont. They are at the peak of their splendor right now, blooming from July into October in our area and bearing fruit in September and October.
Joe-Pye weeds were once classified in a different genus (Euptorium), but are now generally classified within the genus Eutrochium which includes five different Joe-Pye weeds, herbaceous perennials that occur in the mountains and piedmont/coastal area of eastern North America. This genus of five Joe-Pye weeds is part of the Asteraceae (Sunflower) family, second only in number of genera to the Orchid family.
The Joe-Pye weeds we are admiring now at Richland Ridge are tall, stately plants rising up to 11 feet tall with multiple, generally hollow stems with a vanilla odor, whorled leaves around the stems, and topped with large round clumps of showy pink to purplish flowers. In our area, they are mostly Hollow Joe-Pye weeds (Eutrochium fistulosum) although some of them may be Steele’s Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium steelei). A stand of Joe-Pye weeds in bloom can be admired from a considerable distance and provides nectar for a wide variety of pollinators, including Monarch and many other butterflies. Later, flocks of goldfinches can be spotted harvesting the tiny seeds of Joe-Pye weed blossoms.
The legend of its common name is that an Indian medicine man (or early settler), named Jopi or Joe Pye, used infusions from the plant to cure typhoid fever and also to treat kidney stones and other urinary tract problems. Another legend is that native Americans used the hollow stems to breathe underwater when they were being pursued.
Species regarded as of the genus Eutrochium:
- Eutrochium dubium Coastal Plain Joe-Pye Weed
- Eutrochium fistulosum Hollow Joe-Pye Weed
- Eutrochium maculatum Spotted Joe-Pye Weed
- Eutrochium purpureum Sweet Joe-Pye Weed, Green-stemmed Joe-Pye Weed, Queen of the Meadow, Gravel Root, Kidney Root, Purple Boneset
- Eutrochium steelei It is found only in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States, in the States of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.