Head up the Buckhorn Mountain on Route 36 and when you are almost at the Avalon Road intersection, you'll start to see majestic stands of purple flowers scattered along the roadside. They're stands of Joe-Pye Weed expanding and get prettier every year.
Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium purpureum, is a lusty 6- foot Blair County native wildflower, a member of the Aster family.
It blooms just about the time other plants are calling it quits for the summer. Tiny flowers in shades of purple gather in dense dome-shaped, sometimes flat clusters that can be more than a foot wide. Joe-Pye Weed was introduced as a large accent plant to European gardeners in the early 1600s.
Joe Pye was a Native American healer who cared for settlers stricken with typhus and other diseases. Eupatorium purpureum was named in his honor.
Eupatorium was the "go-to" plant for the New England tribes and European immigrants; they recognized the wildflower for its antibiotic and antiseptic properties.
Whatever the ailment, they made Joe-Pye tea. They administered the tea to patients with problems as widely varied as arthritis, gall stones or migraines. It remained the American cure-all until Bayer Aspirin was introduced in 1915.
Eupatorium is a wonderfully dramatic perennial that can add height to the back of a garden. In the background, or along a pond, it is a showy, decorative plant. It likes consistently moist soil and will adapt to just about any garden site.
It gets off to a slow start in the spring, but when it takes off, it's spectacular. You can divide it every four or five years, in the spring or in the fall. The stems and seed heads are lovely in winter, so plant it where you can see it from a window.
Nurseries have developed a number of Joe-Pye Weed hybrids. The most popular is E. purpureum maculatum or 'Gateway' Joe-Pye Weed. Gateway can grow to be 6 or 7 feet tall, with rosy red flowers. It adapts to any soil condition: sand, loam or clay. It attracts butterfly caterpillars and pollinators. The dark orange-amber honey flavored with Joe-Pye Weed has a slightly fruity taste and is said to be sweeter than clover honey.
"Little Joe," Eupatorium dubium, is a shorter, more manageable plant (4 feet tall with a spread of 29-35 inches). It has dome-shaped, lavender-purple blooms on stiff, wine colored stems.
"Baby Joe" is the diminutive brother of the Eupatorium family. It has very large flowers of deep mauve or lilac, but will reach its full size at 2 feet by 2 feet, making it perfect for small gardens.
The contrast between the Chestnut Flats windmills on the Buckhorn, and the grandeur of the Joe-Pye Weed is touching and thought provoking. See for yourself.
Contact Teresa Futrick at esroyllek@ hotmail.com