Joe Pye Weed on the left, swamp milkweed on the right.

This week’s butterfly plant has a memorable name: Joe Pye Weed. Don’t let the “weed” part of its name color your perception of this beautiful plant. This native species is more of a wildflower than a weed.

Like the swamp milkweed we discussed last week, Joe Pye prefers moist, loamy soil and lots of sun. I’ve planted mine in a corner of my yard next to a sprinkler head. A happy Joe Pye Weed will grow more than 6 feet tall and form a dense clump, making it an excellent choice for the back of a border garden. It would also make a stunning focal point in the center of a garden with shorter plants circling it.

This plant has many benefits. It’s dramatic and visually appealing. The most common varieties feature deep pink blooms, though a “chocolate” variety is also available. It has very few pests or diseases. It is one of the best plants for attracting butterflies. With its sturdy, long stems, it is an excellent cut flower. After the flowers on the plant have faded, the seed heads provide visual interest into the winter.

Who was Joe Pye?

Now, back to the name. The plant is named after Joe Pye, an American Indian herbalist that used the roots in a concoction which cured typhus fever. Some tribes also used Joe Pye Weed as a diuretic to treat urinary infections and stones. Because of this, it is also known as “gravel root.”

No matter what you call it, Joe Pye Weed is a dramatic, beautiful plant that fits right into a more relaxed home landscape. It excels at attracting butterflies and beneficial insects. Clusters of its aromatic pink flowers can be more than a foot across. If you’re looking for a slightly unusual native plant to add to your collection, take a look at Joe Pye Weed.