My corner of southeastern US Piedmont has been blessed with steady — but not excessive — rainfall all summer this year. I cannot remember a growing season like this one. All the plants — weeds included — have responded with enthusiasm. And so have the animals, including most every native pollinator — and pollinator predator — that one expects to see in my region.
This growing season will be remembered by me as the summer of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. Never have more of these beauties adorned every blooming plant in my yard, animating the landscape with their slow, drifting flights from flower to flower, often bumping into me as I stood nearby, camera in hand, trying to capture their wondrous abundance. Many flowers have attracted these butterflies, but of all my plants, my healthy stand of native wildflower, Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), deserves special recognition for its power to attract, not only Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, but also just about every other native pollinator in the neighborhood.
Truly, it has been a perpetual pollinator party on the Joe Pye Weed since it started blooming over a month ago. And it is still blooming! I cannot recommend this native wildflower enough for anyone planting — or adding to — a pollinator garden bed. It’s a can’t-miss pollinator magnet. For those of you interested in planting for native birds, Joe Pye Weed is an excellent choice. Insect-eating birds will delight in harvesting a few pollinators as they work Joe’s flowers. And when the pink flower heads ripen to tan-brown seed heads, seed-eating birds like our native Goldfinches will happily dine on the seeds.
This native wildflower naturally occurs along creeks and wetland areas, but it adapts with no difficulty to garden beds, as long as you water it a bit during dry spells. My clump has grown larger every year without much supplemental water at all. The species can top out at about 6 feet, which might be a bit tall for some landscapes, but it is easy to find shorter cultivars at local nurseries that stop at three or four feet, and I’ve found that if you cut the growing stalks of the tall form by about half in early summer, they will bloom at about four feet instead of six, making them less floppy after summer thunderstorms.
Joe Pye Weed is also not picky about the amount of sunlight it needs. It will bloom a bit more prolifically in full sun, but I’ve got stands of it in shady spots in my yard, and the flowers on those plants are almost as abundant — and also enjoyed by numerous pollinators.
I confess I have spent perhaps too much time this summer sitting in front of the Joe Pye Weed in my new pollinator bed (more about that soon). The constant dance of pollinators drifting in and out, the drama of predators snagging unwary insects, the kaleidoscopic colors — it’s all very hypnotic — and soothing.
We are fast approaching the optimal season for planting perennials, shrubs, and trees in our region. Fall is for planting, as we say in these parts, because the air is cool but not icy, so roots can establish thoroughly before plants go into winter sleep, enhancing their vigor and drought resistance when the spring growing season arrives. If you are planning to plant — or add to — a pollinator- and/or bird-friendly garden this fall, be sure that Joe Pye Weed is part of your plan, whether it be the straight species, or one of the many fine cultivars available.
There’s no better place to purchase all the native plants you need for your upcoming fall-planting projects than at the Fall Plant Sale at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. This year, Members’ Night is Friday, September 23, and the sale is open to the general public on Saturday morning, September 24. Not only do members get first dibs on the vast array of natives offered at this sale, they also get a 10% discount on their purchases. And for you procrastinators out there, you can join at the door on Members’ Night. I encourage all the native plant lovers within driving distance of Chapel Hill to put this don’t-miss plant-buying party on your calendars now. And be sure to pick up some Joe Pye Weed, so your pollinators can party on it next growing season.