The Joe-pyes' big dome-shaped inflorescences are stocked with scores of flowers, and sweet their nectar must be. As I slowly cruised a back lane through Shawnee towards dusk last Saturday, I was struck by the sheer numbers of swallowtail butterflies working the Joe-pyes. Some giant plants had four, five, even six of the big showy butterflies simultaneously working the blossoms. To the extent that butterflies squabble, there was much combativeness in evidence as the swallowtails jockeyed for position.
I finally stopped the car by a forest glen loaded with flowering Joe-pye, and was dumbstruck by dozens of swallowtails wafting about, flitting from Joe-pye to Joe-pye. Mostly they were Tigers, which seem to have a special fondness for the plants, but there were also a number of Spicebush Swallowtails mixed in. Photo ops were numerous and irresistible, and I was reminded just how addictive these plants are for the fluttery set.
There are three Joe-pyes native to Ohio: the two aforementioned species, and a shorter one that is equally tasty to butterflies, the Spotted Joe-pye, Eutrochium maculatum. Fortunately, some wise and far-seeing nurserymen have tamed these Joe-pyes and made them available to the homeowner. I would highly recommend sticking some in your yardscape. Not only are they going to one-up any of your neighbor's botanical fare in the cool department, you'll also draw in all of the butterflies.
As more nurseries see the light and increase their stock of natives, interesting and valuable species such as Joe-pye is becoming easier to find. Following are three topnotch Ohio nurseries that carry at least one Joe-pye species (and many other natives):
Scioto Gardens (Delaware)
Ohio Prairie Nursery (Hiram)
Naturally Native Nursery (Bowling Green)