Common names are misleading. I often talk to clients about planting regionally native plants and two standouts are Joe Pye weed and western ironweed. Both plants are great additions to the late season garden and benefit pollinators. However, the first question I get after recommending them is “. . . but why do I want to plant a weed?”
Like I said, common names are misleading. Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is a regionally native plant belonging in the sunflower family, Asteraceae. The plant blooms late summer into fall and is tolerant to wet locations and clay soils. Most Joe Pye weed can grow to about 7’ in height and can be a little overwhelming if not properly placed in the garden. Newer introductions such as ‘Baby Joe’ grow about 4’ tall and is more manageable in the landscape.
Flowers of the Joe Pye weed are a pale mauve/pink color that are often fragrant when in full bloom. They are a butterfly magnet and are visited by migrating monarchs, painted ladies, eastern tiger swallowtail, silver spotted skipper butterfly and many more. It is only visited by a few bumble bees such as the rusty patched bumble (threatened spices) for pollen.
Western Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii, shown above) is another regionally native perennial belonging to the sunflower family, Asteraceae. Like Joe Pye weed, ironweed is overlooked because “weed” appears in the name. This plant will start to bloom late July and continue through September. They are slightly shorter than Joe Pye weed growing about 3’-5’ tall and are more easily managed in the garden. The common name, ironweed, comes from their sturdy stems that hold the plant upright and so staking is not needed. They are adaptive to a wide range of soils from clay to rocky and are drought tolerant once they are established. Other ironweeds include V. noveboracensis New York Ironweed, V. missurica ironweed and V. fasciculate smooth ironweed – all perform well in our area.
The blooms of ironweed are rock stars! They are a bright magenta/purple flower that are eye-catching to both people and insects. A wide range of native bees such as the leacutter bee, green sweat bee, bumble bee and long-horned bee, soldier beetle, syrphid flies and many butterflies can be found on this plant.
Don’t let common names fool you. Interplanting ironweed and Joe Pye weed together will make for an excellent flower display. The sturdy stems of ironweed can help support the taller Joe Pye weed. Putting them together will create a late summer paradise for native pollinators.