Plant of the Week: Joe Pye Weed

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. This week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

Eupatorium is an herbaceous perennial seen in abundance on the High Line in several varieties. A member of the aster family, Eupatorium, commonly known as Joe Pye weed, is native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, where it's easy to find in vacant lots, meadows, and along roadsides. Often occurring in the company of milkweed and other natives, Eupatorium is a great attractor of pollinators, and in particular monarch butterflies, for which it serves as an important nectar source in the months leading up to their great migration.

Eupatorium is an imposing presence in any landscape, standing on stalks up to three meters tall and topped with a cloud of mauve, magenta, or white flowers appearing from July through September. Eupatorium maculatum 'Gateway', which can be seen in the High Line's 10th Avenue Square, sports wine-red stems and deep green, whorled leaves; Eupatorium hyssopifolium, meanwhile, has fine-textured foliage and white-fringed flowers. You'll find Eupatorium dubium 'Baby Joe,' which is smaller in stature and can tolerate wet areas, near the High Line's water feature. Several varieties of Eupatorium are recommended plants for shoreline restoration, for increasing diversity in acid bogs, and in the restoration of disturbed woodlands. Eupatorium can tolerate the concrete debris that commonly makes its way into city soils, making it an ideal planting for urban apartment dwellers and parks.

Both the botanical and common names for this plant have interesting backstories. Most likely an anglicization of the Native American word Jopi, the name "Joe Pye weed" can be traced back to that of a Native American healer from New England who used Eupatorium purpureum to ease fevers. American colonists later used the same plant as a treatment for typhus. The source of the botanical name is a little murkier, but leads us circuitously to the Greek general Mithridates, one of most formidable opponents of the Roman Empire who ruled the area around the Black Sea. It is likely that what we now call Eupatorium grew on the banks of the river flowing through the town of Eupator, and may have been one of the ingredients in the less-than-lethal doses of toxic tonics he took regularly (a practice that is now known as Mithridatism) to protect himself against murder by poisoning.

Plant in full sun to part shade in average-to-rich soil with consistent moisture. Space 24-30" apart. If unable to provide enough moisture, plant in a spot shielded from the afternoon sun.

Hudson River Overlook
Sundeck & Water Feature
10th Avenue Square
Chelsea Grasslands
Wildflower Field & Radial Plantings

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects –become a member of the High Line today!

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