by Ginger Laurits
On my walk to the beach, I pass by a lovely drainage ditch. Lovely, because it is full of native plants, unmolested by invasive species, just as nature would have it (aside from the fact that it is a drainage ditch). Pussy willows that bloomed in early spring were followed by speckled alder, birch, and sassafras under a canopy of red oak and red maple. Viburnums in spring and winterberry in early summer add to the continuous display of flower and leaf colors and textures.
Meadow rue has just dropped her delicate white petals and coastal Joe-Pye’s pink blooms join white-flowered boneset. Spotted jewelweed adds a touch of pizazz with its orange-yellow irregular flowers. Its seed pods burst at the lightest touch, much to the delight of children of all ages (including me!) Asters and goldenrods will follow as the drainage ditch dries and summer winds down. Sedges and grasses that prefer the moist, part sun/part shade conditions fill the spaces in between. Who needs books on garden design? We can take inspiration from nature.
Coastal Joe-Pye (Eutrochium dubium) is the most shade tolerant of the Maine Joe-Pye species, which includes spotted Joe-Pye (Eutrochium maculatum) and hollow Joe-Pye (Eutrochium fistulosum). Coastal Joe-Pye has a compact habit, reaching 4-5 feet tall with a 3 foot spread. Its upright habit adds structure to the garden. Attractive lance-shaped leaves are arranged in whorls around the stem and prior to flowering, upper leaves are tinged with magenta. The flower is a member of the Composite or daisy family, which generally consists of central disk flowers surrounded by ray flowers, known as petals. Unlike it siblings, Joe-Pye contains only disk flowers, as if someone had picked off the ray flowers and left it without its bloomers.
The dome-shaped pink blooms attract many pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects who feast on its pollen and nectar. Flowers mature into buff-colored seed clusters in fall that provide food and nesting material for birds. In addition to its natural companions mentioned above, Joe-Pye blends well with swamp milkweed, blue vervain, and New England aster.
Joe-Pye is easily grown from seed. To grow your own, plant seeds in a pot outdoors in the fall or winter. The wet, cold conditions mimic wild seed propagation in nature and the seeds will germinate in mid spring. To learn more about growing and sowing the seeds of native wildflowers, read How to Grow Natives From Seed, and seeds can be purchased from our shop.
Who was Joe-Pye?
According to folklore, he was a Native American healer, possibly named Jopi, who used the plant as a remedy to cure typhoid fever. He is credited with having halted a typhus epidemic in Colonial Massachusetts. In other lore, Joe Pye weed is believed to have magical attributes as a love potion and for improving one’s luck. I do wish it wasn’t called Joe-Pye Weed. Perhaps Joe-Pye Flower would be better—it’s a welcome plant in my garden!
Ginger Laurits is Wild Seed Project member and volunteer. She is also a York County Master Gardener and tends the Native Border at the Wells Reserve.