Pye in the Sky

Native Eupatorium and American cranberry in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Native Eupatorium and American cranberry (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I bet you thought I forgot the last in the sequence of “E-Series” plants; instead, I was waiting for the opportune moment to brag about this final one!  For those new to my blog, the first two “E-Series” plants (fabulous favorites that start with an E, using a pun from the auto industry for the E-Series Mercedes model) are Echinops (globe thistle) and Eryngium (sea holly), both wonderful perennials for the summer garden.  Yet, as the season wanes the aforementioned plants have sizzled out while the third in the series is just beginning.  Yup, you guessed it: Eupatorium maculatum and Eupatorium purpureum, also known as Joe-Pye weed. 

Massive flower head of Eupatorium purpureum in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A massive flower head of Eupatorium purpureum (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

What’s so great about Mr. Pye as to rank it right up there with the other Big E’s?  Guts and glory.  He’s a big, brawny guy that produces masses of reddish pink to frosty mauve blossoms atop strong stems up to 7′ tall (or higher) in zones 3-7.  Joe likes moist soil and a generous amount of sun to perform at his peak, and I strongly recommend a prune in June to keep him from flopping all over the place.  After all, he has an upstanding image to protect and you wouldn’t want to let him down, now would you?

Variegated Eupatorium fortunei 'Pink Frost' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Variegated Eupatorium fortunei ‘Pink Frost’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Here’s where it gets a little tricky, as there are relatives to eupatorium, some similar, such as Eupatorium perfoliatum, the white alternative, or Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, a deliciously different sibling with darker burgundy foliage and stems that lighten to green right before the fireworks of its sparkler florets burst open.  Then there’s the closer cousins like Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’ with the same wonderful flowers, but on shorter 3-4′ tall stems, Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum ‘Gateway’, a slightly more compact version growing to about 5′ tall, yet producing giant reddish-violet

Eupatorium 'Little Joe' and 'Pink Frost' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Eupatorium ‘Little Joe’ paired with ‘Pink Frost’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

domes up to 12″ in diameter,  and Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum ‘Atropurpureum’, the taller option, said to grow over 10′ tall.  I’m even experimenting with a variegated (!) introduction, Eupatorium fortunei ‘Pink Frost’, which has tiny flowers on 36″ stems (stay tuned to see if it comes back next spring). What I found confusing in all this were the optional names for some of these plants.  For example, if you looked up Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum ‘Gateway’ you would also find the name Eupatoriadelphus maculatus var. maculatus.  When researching several of the maculatum species, I found the option Eutrochium maculatum as well, hmmm . . .

Eupatorium and Friends in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Eupatorium and Friends (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Whatever the proper name, the bottom line is that all of these choices are fine, handsome plants in a mixed garden or naturalized border.  Purpureum and maculatum are both native to the eastern United States, and their grand stature makes them perfect companions for areas with other tall plants and/or ornamental grasses.  I love mixing Pye’s hazy pink blossoms with dark purple ironweed and golden rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’-WOW-what a trio they make!  Eupatoriums (or Eutrochiums . . . or Eupatoriadelphus) are happy, hardy options for the later season garden. The flowers are adored by bees and butterflies, providing a beneficial food source for many, and the gloriously huge blossoms become attractive seed heads that provide interest and form into the winter.  For late season interest with all the benefits of a native, consider adding a tall or petite Joe to your garden.  Not only will you enjoy the stunning display he provides, but the bees and butterflies will thank you for it too.

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