Following the theme of last week’s blog, I would again like to feature some perennial wildflowers that are attractive to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Two closely related perennials that are rich in nectar for beneficials, showy and attractive in the garden, and also have medicinal value are:
- Eupatorium perfoliatum, known as Common Boneset, and
- Eupatorium maculatum, known as Joe Pye Weed
Eupatorium dates back to 115 BC and was named from the Greek name Mithridates Eupator, king of Pontus. It was said that he had discovered an antidote to a commonly used poison using a plant of this species. In general, Eupatorium prefers a specific growing environment such as:
- full sun to partial shade
- wet ground, on the edges of swamps, along streams, in meadows and marshlands
- sandy, loamy or limy soil
Boneset is native to North America, found in the eastern and central portions of the United States, and it was a widely used herb among American Indians. It was a medicinal herb used to make a tea that treated influenza and respiratory conditions. Other common names for Eupatorium perfoliatum are: Feverwort, Ague Weed, Indian Sage, Wood Boneset, Crosswort, and Sweating Plant. There are chemical ingredients in Boneset such as flavonoids and terpenoids that have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial benefits.
Eupatorium perfoliatum can reach up to 5 feet tall, and it blooms from July through October. The flower heads are large and flat and are made of ¼ inch white flowers. The flowers are showy, long-lived and very attractive to wildlife. The leaves have a wrinkled texture, and they grow on opposite sides of the stem, but they are joined at the base, encircling the stem. It appears that the stem is growing through the leaf, so to ancient herbalists, this indicated that the plant would be useful in setting bones. The Boneset leaves were wrapped with bandages around splints to heal broken bones.
Joe Pye Weed is tall, up to 6 feet, and bushy with stems that are spotted or evenly purplish. The leaves are sharply toothed and form in whorls of 4 – 5. The flat-topped, branched cluster of flowers is in shades of pink to purple and is lightly scented. Bloom time is July through September and the flowers are very showy especially when planted in mass plantings.
Other common names for Eupatorium maculatum are: Spotted Joe Pye Weed, Purple Boneset, and Spotted Trumpet Weed. This Eupatorium also has medicinal benefits. The legend behind Eupatorium maculatum is that an American Indian, Joe Pye, used this plant to cure fevers and treated American colonists during an outbreak of typhus.
Eupatorium is attractive to birds, butterflies and bees with E. maculatum being the favorite of butterflies. It provides nectar for butterflies such as the Giant Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail and the Orange Sulphur. Sadly, it is more and more difficult to find Eupatorium in the wild, but nurseries that carry native plants will often have it available for purchase.
Propagation of Eupatorium is either through plant division or seeds. Eupatorium seeds can be started in either late fall (dormant planting) or early spring. Spread the wildflower seeds over a prepared seedbed that is weed free and tamp the seeds in, covering with no more than 1/8 inch of soil. Keep the seedbed moist. Pinch back the young Eupatorium seedlings to promote shorter, bushier plants that are not as vulnerable to the wind. Once grown, apply a balanced liquid fertilizer when the flower heads appear and apply every other week until flowering is done. Eupatorium plants can be divided in spring or fall.
Whether you chose to have Eupatorium stand alone in a mass planting or select one or two plants for the back of the flower border, this attractive perennial will give a wonderful, long-lasting display and will be attractive to beneficial insects. In addition … you have some great folklore to share with your neighbors on the history of these plants!
Question of the week: Which of the two Eupatorium plants are you going to grow first?
By Kimberly Bell