Big Joe

A number of visitors to Eliza Howell Park this summer made comments after seeing Joe Pye Weed. They had not been familiar with it and wanted to know more. I understand that reaction very well; it is an impressive plant, one that for some time now has been one of my favorite wildflowers.

Joe Pye Weed is a perennial wildflower, one that attracts butterflies, and it has historically been used both medically and as food. And some EHP plants grow to about 8 feet tall! If a “weed” is something undesirable, Joy Pye has been misnamed.

Its blooming season is soon coming to an end, but Joe Pye had a long summer run. One of my favorite photos from the summer is this one of an E. Tiger Swallowtail sipping nectar on a Joe Pye bloom in early August.

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There are several Joe Pye plants in the “prairie” section of EHP. I first begin to pay attention to them each year when they start to rise above other plants in late June. The next picture was taken on July 8.

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The origin of the name is uncertain, but a common story is that it is named after a Native American healer, “Joe Pye” (or “Jopi”), who used this plant to treat fevers and possibly other conditions (18th century?). Tea made from the plant has been thought to have health benefits and it is listed as an edible plant.

In addition to whatever health and nutritional benefits it can provide, it contributes enormously to nature observation. Two days before the July 14 wildflower walk, the flowers were beginning to open.

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Part of the attractiveness of Joe Pye Weed is that it takes its time blooming, opening up slowly and lasting from July to September.

The next picture is from July 24.

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Through most of August, I was able to find pollinating insects almost whenever I walked by — for example, on August 4…

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…and on August 10.

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A purple flower, ironweed (in the middle below between two Joe Pyes), also stands tall, but it doesn’t seem to have quite the presence of Joe Pye Weed. And it has a shorter bloom time.

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Joe Pye Weed is a great presence in a wildflower field. It is a large, reliable, insect-attracting, native perennial. It might merit the affectionate nickname of “Big Joe.”