The Plant Native

Joe Pye Weed

Highlights

These tall, late-blooming native plants offer crucial pollen and nectar at the end of the season when many other flowers have stopped blooming. Joe Pye Weed has one of the most confusing common names for a plant—who is Joe Pye, and why would I want to plant a weed? But once you meet Joe Pye and his namesake flower, you will want to plant at least half a dozen in your sunny garden. Bonus: they are super drought-tolerant.

Part Shade – Shade
6-12″ tall
Host plant
Eupatorium Genus
Joe Pye Weeds' shape is absolutely perfect for butterfly landings

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Joe Pye Weed

Table of Contents

Why plant Joe Pye Weed?

Joe Pye Weed is a native plant. Native plants have lived in North America for thousands of years. Every drought, weather event, and cold snap they have lived through. They have the DNA and experience to thrive in our gardens. Planting native is important for many reasons, including:

  1. Native plants give bugs, pollinators, and birds the homes and food they need to survive. Joe Pye Weeds’ blooms give pollinators lots of blooms every summer and fall.
  2. Native plants and trees require minimal work, water, and care to thrive (especially compared to lawns!) Forget fancy fertilizers or watering systems; all Joe Pye Weed needs is rain to thrive.
  3. Native plants are GORGEOUS. They have been hiding in plain sight and their beauty is undeniable. Explore our library to find your faves.

Now that we’ve given reasons why to plant Joe Pye Weed, let’s learn a little more about their common name (who is Joe Pye?!) and where to plant them.

Where does the name Joe Pye Weed come from?

Joe Pye Weed is a strange common name! (A common name is a plant name given by the generations before us. While there is always only one Latin name, a plant can have many common names.) If you look at botany books over the centuries, many explain that Joe Pye was “an Indian herbalist” or a “wandering medicine man” who lived somewhere on the eastern seaboard in the 1600s (the location varies from Maine to South Carolina.)

The story behind Joe Pye Weed’s common name has changed over generations, but the real Joe Pye may have been found. According to a 24-page, thoroughly researched, peer-reviewed paper in the University of Michigan’s Great Lakes Botanist:

“Discrepancies have long existed as to the race of the man for whom Joe-Pye-weed was named, the century and the part of the country in which he lived, and even whether the plant name was derived from the name of any person, real or fictional. Our investigation has indicated that this plant name is from the cognomen of Joseph Shauquethqueat, an 18th- and early 19th-century Mohican sachem, who lived successively in the Mohican communities at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and New Stockbridge, New York.” (Source)

Joseph Shauquethqueat—or Joe Pye—needs a Hollywood movie

The story of Joseph Shauquethqueat is worthy of hearing (and making a movie about). Joseph Shauquethqueat was born in 1722. (‘Pye’ is an Ellis Island shorthand for Shauquethqueat—many within the Mohican community had Anglicized last names often used when signing documents.)

While he was young, Shauquethqueat’s Mohican community moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts when the government gave the land as “a reward for the Mohicans’ service on the British colonists’ side in intercolonial conflicts with the French.” The gift was a sham. White settlers encroached on the land, while racist laws made it impossible for indigenous community members to protect their ownership or even own businesses.

In 1777, Shauquethqueat became Chief Sachem of the Stockbridge Mohicans. During his time as leader, he asked the Massachusetts government to protect what they had been given: “[w]e and our fathers had once been the rightful possessor of all your Country,” he wrote in one letter. 

The letters didn’t matter. “In 1785, the Stockbridge Mohicans, impoverished and having succumbed to pressures to sell much of their land in Massachusetts or surrender it in settlement of debts, and with their civil rights in Stockbridge being eroded as the white population increased, began an exodus to what is now part of Madison and Oneida counties, New York.” Shauquethqueat wasn’t trusting the government this time. The land in New York was given by the Oneida tribe.

Then George Washington—yes that George Washington—appears

Picking up and moving an entire community is a miracle, especially one with a target on its back. During this time, Native Americans were consistently attacked and murdered. Shauquethqueat needed a way to move the community safely. On July 2, 1783, Shauquethqueat wrote to a white leader asking for protection: George Washington. Washington wrote back that the Mohicans had “remained firmly attached to us, [and had] fought and bled by our side…consider them as friends and subjects to the United States of America.” The letter helped deliver safe passage to New York, a small bit of light against generations of violence and disenfranchisement. 

So how did the plant get named for ‘Joe Pye’?

Joe Pye Weed is known within indigenous communities for helping ease fevers, becoming a medicine that white communities depended on. Many stories tell of Native Americans saving white settlers from death by introducing its medicinal properties. This is a special plant that deserves a special name.

The name Joe Pye Weed came from white settlers, using a name they knew and respected for a plant they depended on. Plant Joe Pye Weed immediately and honor this great man’s valor, vision, and leadership, alongside Native Americans’ incredible knowledge of our living world. (For other great common name backstories, read about Pawpaw trees and Southern Catalpas.)

Joe Pye Weed + Asters + Coneflowers + Grasses = four-season garden

How to grow Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed is one of the easiest native flowers to grow. They thrive in:

  • Full sun to partial sun. They can handle blazing sunshine, and also be fine on the edges of tree lines. 
  • It prefers consistently moist spots, but it can also happily grow in more dry areas. 

It’s super easy to grow Joe Pye Weed from seed. Plant by seed in the spring and enjoy flowers in the fall. After the first year, plants will continue to grow in nearby space. If they get too large or too numerous, just dig up and divide them in the spring or fall. (Prairie Nursery offers both plants and seeds for Spotted Joe Pye Weed.) 

Where to plant Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed is tall: on average 3-6 feet. Plant it in the back of a garden, surrounded by medium and short-height native plants. One of the amazing things about this plant is that it does not require staking! 

There are several species of Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed is the common name for several species of plants within the Eupatorium genus. Each plant has pink-purple blooms and is a butterfly favorite. The main difference between species is seen in their height:

  • Hollow Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) can get up to 10 FEET
  • Sweetscented Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) and Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) are 6 feet tall
  • Coastal Plain Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium dubium) is the shortest at 4 feet
  • There are also some cultivars (one is called ‘Baby Joe’) that are even shorter. We recommend planting true native plants over cultivars, when possible.
Map from USDA Plants Database

Where is Joe Pye Weed native?

Joe Pye Weed is native to a huge swath of North America. Anywhere from Maine to Texas, from Florida to Canada, can grow Joe Pye Weed.

Joe Pye Weed is a host plant for 36+ butterflies and moths

All species of Joe Pye Weed are host plants

All species of Joe Pye Weed are host plants for more than 35+ species of moth and butterfly caterpillars, including Ruby Tiger Moths and Clymene Moths.

What to Plant with Joe Pye Weed

These plants are fantastic pairings. They offer flowers at different parts of the growing season so pollinators have lots of food and shelter.

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Aster

black-eyed-susans-native-flower-garden

Black-Eyed Susan

coneflower-native-plant-swallowtail-butterfly

Coneflower

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False Blue Indigo

monarch-butterfly-on-a-common-milkweed-plant

Milkweed

obedient-plant-in-bloom-native-flower

Obedient Plant

Joe Pye Weed’s name comes with a biography worth retelling for generations, and its value to pollinators cannot be denied. Plant a few in your garden alongside flowering native plants that bloom at other parts of the season for a truly stunning pollinator garden. Make sure to add a nametag and share the history with neighbors when they ask, “Who is Joe Pye?”

Looking for more inspiration on what to plant? Our regional guides make it easy:

Sources

UPDATED —
02/19/2024
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