Wildflower Wednesday: Joe Pye Weed

My garden doesn’t have many fall native wildflowers (yet). One I do like very much, though, is hollow Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum).

Hollow joe pye weed

Native to eastern North America, Eutrochium fistulosum forms a massive clump, growing 5-8 feet tall and 4 feet wide in the moist soils it likes. Mine is a bit on the drier side, and so grows correspondingly shorter, topping out at around 6 feet high and 3 feet wide. During rainy spells in summer, I can practically watch it grow. 

Butterflies and bees love the flowers, which are rich in nectar. 

My plant suffered a setback from last year’s weather, I think; it’s half the size it was last year. Or perhaps it’s time to dig and divide. I’m keen to keep it going because it attracts so much wildlife. And the seed heads look beautiful all winter, especially under ice.

Ice on Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum

Ice on Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium fistulosum

Season: midsummer through fall; winter interest
Height: 5-8 ft.
Flower Color: Rosy purple.
Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zone 4-8
Foliage: Lime green, lightly serrated. Red stems.
Flower: Loose, rosy purple inflorescences.

Site: Prefers moist sites but will cope with average to dry soils.

Propagation: Division spring or fall.

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Moist and well-drained to wet. 
Origin: Eastern North America
Life Cycle: Perennial

Wildflower Wednesday is a celebration of wildflowers from all over the world. It’s hosted by Gail and Clay and Limestone on the fourth Wednesday of each month. 

Wildflower Wednesday: Echinacea purpurea

My seed-sown Echinacea purpurea just began to flower this week.

Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower

I don’t have many of these plants yet. I had perhaps five or six seedlings survive my first winter sowing adventure, and last year (their first year) they slept, of course. This year they are beginning to creep. I have sturdy individual plants that haven’t yet grown into substantial clumps. I look forward to next year, when I hope to have an attractive if small sweep of them brightening up the blue slope near the road.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone on the fourth Wednesday of each month.


Know thine enemy: Common weeds to know

Here’s a terrific chart of common weeds, by the Missouri Botanical Garden. Get to know the weeds that make their homes in your garden. The more you know about them, including their life cycles and reproductive habits, the more weapons you have with which to thwart them.

And please, avoid using chemical weed controls. They can be toxic to pollinators, including bees and butterflies, and can persist in the soil for very long periods of time. Mulch and other methods of weed control are more sustainable, and healthier for you, your family, your pets, and the environment over the long term.


Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium fistulosum

An important top ten list for the year, part 2: Important herbaceous host plants for butterflies, moths, and birds.

Yesterday I wrote about the top genera (all of which happen to be woody) that are important for hosting Lepidoptera species (butterflies and moths). I was astonished to see that Quercus (oaks) are critical hosts for 532 total species of Lepidoptera, 518 of which are natives.papilio polyxenes caterpillar on bronze fennel

I’m feeling pretty chuffed: My half-acre suburban lot contains 26 oaks, one hickory, and three blueberries, all of which make the top ten. But not everything in the landscape is a woody plant (though sometimes around here it feels like it). What herbaceous genera are important hosts?

Top 10 Herbaceous Genera for Supporting Lepidoptera Species:

  1. Trifolium (clover): 122 total Lepidoptera species
  2. Zea (corn, maize): 120 species.
  3. Solidago (goldenrod): 115
  4. Aster (asters): 109
  5. Taraxacum (dandelion): 87
  6. Fragaria (strawberry): 81
  7. Helianthus (sunflower): 75
  8. Medicago (alfalfa): 69
  9. Brassica (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, etc.): 68
  10. Phaseolus (beans): 66
Aster laevis 'Bluebird'

Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’

Interestingly, of those 10 best herbaceous genera,  4 (Zea, Taraxacum, Medicago, and Brassica) are alien to the US.

Clover and alfalfa are common cover crops. The Zea, Fragaria, Brassicas, and Phaseolus genera are very common agricultural crops for home gardeners, and Taraxacum is growing in popularity as an agricultural crop, albeit in very niche markets.

The next 10 ranked herbaceous genera also include lots of food crops grown by home gardeners:

  • Plantago (plantain): 66 species
  • Solanum (tomatoes, eggplants/aubergines, peppers): 61
  • Nicotiana (tobacco): 60
  • Gossypium (cotton): 59


    Cotton (Gossypium)

  • Polygonum (knotweed): 58
  • Rumex (dock, sorrel): 54
  • Lactuca (lettuce): 51
  • Ambrosia (ragweed): 48
  • Beta (beets/beetroot): 44
  • Chenopodium (lambsquarters): 42

All this points to the importance of using organic methods in the garden. But moreover, we need to be mindful that the foods that sustain humans are also critical support for insect and bird species we not only enjoy, but also rely upon:  They pollinate our crops, and they keep other, more problematic insect species under control. And since some species of the important host plants are classified as invasive (including certain Acers, Ambrosias, Brassicas, Plantagos, Polygonums, and Solanums), it’s important to pay attention to the scientific name of what you’re planting.

This year I’m going to embrace my role as part of the ecological circle by planting an extra row or two of these crops to let the caterpillars and butterflies enjoy. I will keep a row for the hungry near my own food crops and protect those with floating row covers; I’ll plant the others in a sunny spot away from my food crops. I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

New plants to try: Ceratotheca triloba

My visit this fall to Montrose hasn’t stopped inspiring me. Ceratotheca triloba, also known as South African foxglove, is an unusual annual plant that thrives in gravel soil.

Ceratotheca triloba

Ceratotheca triloba

It looks a bit like a cross between a salvia and a foxglove. Like foxgloves, it grows 3-6′ tall, attracts bees and hummingbirds, and gently reseeds itself to spread gracefully around the garden. At Montrose, it grew in the pathways.

Ceratotheca triloba

The front of the blossom looks very much like that of a foxglove. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t photograph the flower’s face without stepping in the borders.) I imagine it looking most attractive in the company of Salvia leucantha, Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape’ and Callirhoe involucrata. 

I think I must get the rest of my cyclamen sown, and quickly.

Planning and planting for monarchs

Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus Proboscis 2...

Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus Proboscis 2591px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that fall is here, and life in the garden is beginning to slow down (ever so slightly), I am thinking about next year’s garden.

It’s been a wonderful summer here for swallowtail butterflies. I enjoy spotting the caterpillars that continue, even now, to overwhelm my small stands of bronze fennel (one of the construction workers building our addition said he counted 19 on one plant last week!).

swallowtail butterfly larva

A very hungry swallowtail caterpillar munches my bronze fennel to its core.

But as you may have heard if you live in the US, this has been a bad year for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Habitat destruction and widespread use of pesticides have contributed to profound declines in numbers over the past few years. In the past, I have tried to grow plants attractive to all kinds of pollinators, but as I plan for Winter Sowing 2.0, I intend to sow and plant for monarchs in particular.

Monarch larvae feed on milkweed (Asclepias sp.), and females will only lay their eggs on these plants. Different species of milkweed are recommended for different areas of the US: Monarch Joint Venture has a map and fact sheet about them.

But migrating butterflies need nectar plants as well. Monarch Watch is a wonderful source of information on ways to help contribute to conservation of this species (as well as other butterfly species), including recommended nectar plants. I think my household may try to become certified as a Monarch Waystation next year (I feel a Girl Scout project coming on).

Photograph of a female Monarch Butterfly en ( ...

Photograph of a female Monarch Butterfly en ( Danaus plexippus en ) on a hybrid Milkweed en ( Asclepias tuberosa en x Asclepias incarnata en ). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many milkweeds species perform well with winter sowing–a technique in which the gardener sows seed in a simple pot or flat and leaves it exposed to the elements all winter long. The gardener doesn’t tend the seedlings until it’s time to pot them on. It couldn’t be easier–so there is little excuse for me to not try to help this beloved and charismatic species recover from the challenges it has suffered.

I hope that, if you garden in North America, you will explore resources like Monarch Watch and Monarch Joint Venture to find out ways you can help. There are wonderful citizen science programs around through which gardeners and homeowners can assist with migration tracking and population counts.  No garden is too small to contribute to the conservation of these creatures.