Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum): Cultivation, Varieties & Companion Plants

Joe Pye weed also referred to as Eutrochium purpureum, is a species of herbaceous perennial plant. It’s a member of the Asteraceae family and is often found in moist areas such as near streams or in drainage ditches. It is native to eastern and central North America, from Ontario east to New Hampshire and south as far as Florida, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

The plant is named after Joe Pye, an Indigenous American from New England who used the plant in the early 1800s for medicinal needs. It is a clump-forming herb that grows up to 7 feet tall and blooms in late summer with tiny mauve or pink-purple flowers in large clusters atop tall, thick stems. As the plant begins to bloom the stems often bend downward under the weight of the flowers. The leaves grow to 30 cm (12 in) long and have a somewhat wrinkled texture. 

Joe Pye weed can grow in conditions, from full sun to partial shade. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and can tolerate a wide range of soil types, including acidic, neutral, and alkaline. It’s hardy in USDA zones 4-9, which means it can survive in cold and warm conditions until frost hits.

There are several species of Joe Pye weed, but the most common one is Eutrochium purpureum. Other species include Eutrochium maculatum (Spotted Joe Pye Weed), Eutrochium fistulosum (Hollow Joe Pye Weed), and Eutrochium dubium (Coastal Plain Joe Pye Weed). Each species has slightly different characteristics, but all are similar in appearance. This species hybridizes readily with other species of Eutrochium and where this species and those species overlap in distribution the resulting plants can be difficult to resolve to a specific taxon.

Joe Pye weed is a favorite of butterflies and other pollinators due to its sweet vanilla scent. It’s also a popular choice for native gardens because it adds height and texture to the landscape. It’s generally low maintenance, but it can be prone to powdery mildew, which can hinder its growth.

Joe Pye weed doesn’t require special winter protection. The stalks can be cut back to just above ground level when frost kills the plants or after the flowers have faded. It can be divided in early spring to control its spread and to propagate new plants. Seeds can also be collected and sown, but they require a period of cold stratification to germinate.

Planting and Care

  • Planting time: The best time to plant Joe Pye Weed is either in spring, just as new growth emerges, or in fall.
  • Spacing: Space plants 2-4 feet apart depending on the variety you choose.
  • Watering: Water regularly, especially during the first growing season, to maintain consistently moist soil. Established plants are more drought tolerant but will benefit from extra watering during hot, dry periods.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
  • Fertilizing: Generally not necessary, especially if your soil is rich. However, a balanced fertilizer in early spring can be applied if the foliage looks pale.
  • Dividing: You can divide established clumps in spring or fall to propagate new plants.

Companion Plants for Joe Pye Weed

Companions from Eutrochium family

  • Hollow Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum): This is the tallest of the Joe Pye Weeds, reaching up to 10 feet in height. It has more muted pink flowers and prolific seed heads that attract birds.
  • Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum): Grows to about six feet tall and has purple speckled stems.
  • Coastal Plain Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium dubium): The shortest among the Joe Pye Weed species.
  • Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum): This species is native across the central and eastern United States, zones 4 to 9.
  • Little Joe Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium asteraceae Little Joe): A dwarf variety that grows to only 24-30 inches tall.
  • Red Dwarf Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium): A European introduction of this native species, it is a vigorous, yet compact grower reaching 3 ft. tall.

Other companions

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii):This fast-growing shrub produces clusters of fragrant flowers in shades of purple, pink, orange, and red throughout summer, similar to Joe Pye Weed’s bloom time. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil, just like Joe Pye Weed.
  • Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): Goldenrod comes in a variety of heights and flower colors, including yellow, orange, and burgundy. They are a natural fit with Joe Pye Weed, creating a stunning display of late-season color. Goldenrod attracts butterflies and other pollinators and thrives in full sun to part shade in moist, well-drained soil.
  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): Daisy-like flowers with spiky purple centers, bloom mid to late summer, overlapping with the early blooms of Joe Pye Weed. Coneflowers are easy to grow, tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions, and attract pollinators like butterflies and bees. They prefer full sun but can tolerate some afternoon shade.
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida): This is a daisy-like flower with a dark brown center, it blooms from midsummer to fall, adding a burst of color alongside Joe Pye Weed. They are low-maintenance perennials that thrive in full sun and well-drained soil.
  • Aster (Aster novae-angliae): Asters are known for their star-shaped flowers that come in a variety of colors, including pink, purple, white, and blue. They bloom in late summer and fall, extending the season of interest with Joe Pye Weed. Asters prefer full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil.
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): Switchgrass forms clumps of upright, arching foliage that turns golden in fall. It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil, just like Joe Pye Weed.

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