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Prairie Works, Inc.

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Prairie Works is the source for ecological restoration, land stewardship consultation services in Northwest Illinois and Southwest Wisconsin. Prairie Works can assist on projects large and small ranging from prairie, woodland and savanna restoration, invasive species control, controlled burning, landscape design, forestry, Native American burial mound restoration and bio-engineered erosion control. Prairie Works strives to connect people to the natural history of the area.

The Prairie Works Blog: A cyber bulletin posting articles since 2007. Please browse the archives at your leisure.

Prairie Works Social Media Page

In an ever-changing marketing world, a static website with a seasonally updated blog, is no longer sufficient to keep up with today’s information stream. We would like to introduce Prairie Works social media page. We have chosen Google Plus as the platform in which to provide more frequent interaction with the public. G+ offers high quality imaging and a seamless flow with the wildly popular search engine and email service, GMail. Prairie Works website and blog will remain as it has since 2006. However, a more dynamic location with frequent updates and photo pages will be available here: +Prairie Works

Prairie Works does controlled burn around That Tree

This burn season Prairie Works had the opportunity to conduct a controlled burn on the land surrounding That Tree. That Tree has become one of the more popular trees in the Midwest lately.


Controlled Burn around "That Tree"

Prairies Capture Snow

Prairies Capture Snow

Aside from below normal tempatures, the winter of 2013-2014 has seen considerable wind speeds, thus far. On many occassions road crews have had to keep up with snow covered roads, without snow actually falling. Areas where intensive agriculture is employed have been most prone to drifting. It also seems like the pratice of leaving rows of corn standing adjacent to roadways has fallen out of fashion.

Prairies have a great ability to capture and retain blowing snow. In fact, in areas where native grasses are adjacent to roadways there has been no drifting at all. If a native grass buffer could be employed into these drift prone areas we could enjoy many great benefits including significant cost savings.

If one compares this picture to the August 7 post below. One will realize the same prairie looks stunning during the summer and even the birds will enjoy that.

Winter Arrives in JoDaviess Co.

“In the Northwest corner of Illinois, where the land is fleece white in the winter, and stays that way until the thaw,” Archie Lieberman from Farm Boy, 1974.

Summer 2013

Prairie ecologists across the Midwest have come to one popular consensus this summer. Our prairies are looking good! Whether, it was last years drought, this years surplus rainfall or the combination of the two. There is no doubt that this spring and summer our prairies have put on a show that proves that aesthetics alone should warrant the preservation and promotion of them. My personal inclination is that last years drought made for some tougher prairie plants allowing them to tap energy sources not available during the very wet 2008-2011 period thus able to compete with invasive and weeds species this year. The prairie above was planted in 2006 and has been under a Prairie Works Stewardship regime since then making it almost weed free this year. A testament to prairies’ resilience and the importance of maintenance during the prairie’s juvenile years.

Spring 2013 Burn Season

Lately, it seems that each spring brings its challenges to burning. Last year it quickly became to warm thus halting our season off early. This year the handicap was rainfall. Dubuque, IA set its all-time rainfall record for the month of April breaking a record set in 1896. The saving grace was the fact that it remained cool, preventing the greening of vegetation. So cool in fact, that the first burns were done with snow still on the ground. At the end of the season we ended up doing 22 burns roughly half of our scheduled burns. Many woodlands were too wet with some sites not accessible.  Overall, burn intensity was low allowing us to manipulate the fire behavior to achieve our management goals. Here are some of the pictures.

That Tree Photo Project

For the past year Platteville, WI photographer Mark Hirsch has been working on a very engaging project. His That Tree project has been successful enough to be covered by media outlets nation wide. It has been a multi-faceted success blending photography, nature and technology so well, it has gathered the attention of purists from all three fields.

That Tree - Day 75

Starting on March 24th, 2012 Mark has photographed a seemingly humble Oak tree everyday using an iPhone. Through the use of social media his project began to attract a loyal following and over the course of a year many have become reliant on his daily photo offering. Never identical, the year long photo journal shows pictures from many different perspectives and is a true testament to the photographers creativity.

That Tree, which stands alone in the middle of a corn field south of Platteville Wisconsin, is a 163 year old Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) that is representative of the growth form of most classic Bur Oaks, wide and sprawling. Due to the density and weight of Oak wood, branches hang so low they hit the ground without any obstructions. This way the Bur Oak can stretch out and behave as it prefers. That Tree almost met its death in 1990 but was sparred and has continued to provide insects for birds, acorns for turkeys, a perch for eagles, shade for mammals and now inspiration for man.

The daily pursuits to catch the perfect picture has found the photographer battling some tough obstacles. Waking up early, running over to take advantage of odd cloud formations, ice storms, wind have all been part of the daily rigor. The cell phone he uses is an iPhone 4S which sports just 8 mega pixels through an iPro lens. Not utilizing filters, Mark has added the Camera X app to add to the aperture and shutter speed limits. He used an app called SlowShutter to capture streaking lightning bugs in contrast to the dark shadow of the tree behind them during a particular June photo. The limitations of using a phone camera has taught Mark to not rely on equipment to do the job. It is a representation of present day technology and what could be the future of photography.

Mark has found himself struggling for hours for the right shot. Trying different angles, climbing the tree, using umbrellas to block in-climate weather, contemplating and adding fun holiday themes to his daily task has all been standard. Impressing even the usually critical photography world, Mark has re-ignited the passion that decided his career path long ago. “The hammer doesn’t build the house” he says. Knowing that not just anyone can embark on a similar project.

That Tree - Day 365

I was fortunate enough to have been a part of the projects final shot on day 365. You can see me and my family front and center of the group photo. The future of That Tree is flexible at this point according to Mark. Rather, than a book to be released in August he is unsure how it will continue. With so many people fans of the project he will not completely abandon it.

That Tree Collage

Although the widespread appeal of this project is positive. My hope is that it can accomplish a greater respect and knowledge of the importance of the Oak tree genus. Trees of the Quercus family, and Quercus macrocarpa specifically, have been under intense pressure here in the Midwest. Mesophication, lack of fire in our woodlands, changing agricultural practices and an overall lack of appreciation is slowly tipping Oak trees towards extinction. The classic shape of That Tree has been standard for hundreds of years but is becoming increasingly hard to find Bur Oaks with that stoic stance today.

Like the future of That Tree, the project, so is the future of the family that it belongs to.

That Trees’ Website – Book ordering information

That Tree on Facebook

Article from the Chicago Tribune

Winter & Fish Habitat

The words “winter” and “fish” are not used synonymously often. However, winter is a great time of year to help our fish populations. For the third consecutive winter Prairie Works has utilized the ice to create fish habitat on Lake Galena.

Traditionally, former Christmas trees have been used. Coniferous trees such as pines and cedars are suitable for creating areas of refuge for smaller fish species to in order to keep away from the larger predator fish. The closely spaced branches and spiny textures help keep pan fish and juveniles from being just another meal for a bigger fish. These fish can then grow large themselves. Red Cedar trees are frequently removed from sites undergoing ecological restoration as it is considered an invasive species in Oak Woodland and Savanna situations. When these projects are within close proximity to a body of water we can take advantage of the situation by placing these trees on the water instead of a more labor intensive options such as creating brush piles, firewood or burning them. Often times we have too much byproduct to create habitat piles for our liking. Fish habitat is a fantastic alternative that results in saving time with the added benefit of creating habitat of the aquatic variety as well as the terrestrial types.

Fish “structure” is easily created by moving the cedars onto the ice by means of dragging or winching. We then utilize lake depth maps to determine the best location and the trees are placed in those spots. Ideally, spots that are fairly deep but not in a current are best. Then cinder blocks are lashed to the trees via steel wire. The tree then sits and waits for warmer temperatures to arrive and falls to the bottom of the lake once the ice disappears.

Herbicide Applicator Tool

One very time consuming step when performing woody invasive brush removal is the application of herbicide to the cut stump. It is absolutely neccesary to apply herbicide to the cut stumps of trees and brush, otherwise the plant will resprout. Traditionally, hand held or backpack sprayers have been used to carry out this task. This leads to a lot of bending over, over application, drift to non target plants and an overall lack of effeciency. This year Prairie Works Stewardship Foreman, Jake Moore, developed a tool to ease the difficulties. We have found that utilizing the new applicator tool can cut one acre of stump applying time by one-half while also reducing the amount of herbicide used by 75%.

Several clients have asked to purchase these applicators in which we obliged. We have sold 21 units so far.  Now, we would to expand the offering and allow these to be sold to everyone. The cost for this tool is $60.00.

If this tool interests you please contact us at: info@prairieworksinc.com

Chris Kirkpatrick

Cory Ritterbusch and Chris Kirkpatrick

Prairie Works is proud to announce that Chris Kirkpatrick has been named the executive director of The Prairie Enthusiasts. For the past five years Chris has worked reliably for Prairie Works on a part time basis. Aside from his position at the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation he has been doing prairie stewardship and timber stand improvements projects for Prairie Works, and was the face behind Forest Works. Chris has proven to be a valuable force to the restoration of natural areas in Northwest Illinois for the past ten years. Chris was named the executive director of The Prairie Enthusiasts in May.

Chris will be available on a part time basis until the end of the calendar year here at Prairie Works. Thanks for all of your hard work Chris and best of luck in Madison.

2012 Spring Burn Season

After experiencing the warmest March on record in the area we had many handicaps to deal with this past burn season. Left in the heats’ wake was the inability to do many woodland burns and small windows of opportunity for prairies, especially those in the early restoration phases.  Overall, burns were less intense and more smokey than usual. However, it was a great year if your plans were to stress cool season grasses such as Brome. Above is a picture from our burn on March 29th as published in the Freeport Journal-Standard.

Bird’s Eye Primrose

The famous Bird’s Eye Primrose (Primula mistassinica) plant at Apple River Canyon State Park perhaps blooming at it’s earliest date ever on March 27th 2012.

Prairie Works Publishes Book

Prairie Works owner, Cory Ritterbusch, has published a new book:  H.S. Pepoon: Pioneer Conservationist of Northwest Illinois, is now available at many retail outlets in the Tri-State area and can be ordered here. Fans of Prairie Works should find this book very interesting. Below is it’s first review.

H.S. Pepoon: Prophet and Polymath

“To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing” – William Butler Yeats

Yeats could not have had Herman Silas Pepoon (1860-1941) in mind when he wrote his famous poem, but he may as well have. Pepoon, arguably one of the most gifted botanists of his era, has been all but ignored by historians and scientists alike. A prophet without an audience, he remained in isolation, a curio piece of Midwestern gentility.

But Pepoon’s luck is about to change and his work to be acknowledged. Cory Ritterbusch, of Shullsburg, Wisconsin, has rescued Pepoon from anonymity in his new book H.S. Pepoon: Pioneer Conservationist of Northwest Illinois. In doing so he establishes Pepoon as a touchstone of the natural history of Illinois and iconic of the Driftless Area.

Born in Jo Daviess County, Illinois in 1860, Pepoon set out as early as the mid 1870’s to record and document the cornucopia of Illinois plants, prairies and forests in Jo Daviess County. His works anticipate and make way for the likes of Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry and others. His prose is richly evocative of the beauty he captures, a beauty he warns is endangered by the militant indifference of the putative stewards of the land. (See Destruction of a Farm Flora 1904 and Ecological Survey of the Driftless Area 1906)

In these early essays Pepoon limns the passion and conviction of Ralph Waldo Emerson in conveying the sense of mourning at the passing of the Illinois prairie, a victim of “soulless corporations,” of industry, of aggressive agriculture and public apathy. He writes of the prairie in elegy and in a way that is unimprovable by anybody’s art:

“The days are gone, the men are largely passed on, the flowers have disappeared, and into our hearts a feeling of sadness comes to realize that never again can these things be.”

The loss is all the greater because of the iconic status the Driftless Area would take on as a near geological singularity in North America. For Pepoon there was a clear message here, a counterpoint to a ceaseless and slave-like dependence on the utilitarian and quotidian. According to Pepoon, the “man who drinks in the hand of nature is not a wrecker of the commonwealth or a despoiler of his best interests.” He cares rather about the “higher qualities of the mind and soul,” and understands that the leisure induced by nature is the source of all civilization. In this regard Pepoon prepares a message that the twentieth century German philosopher, Josef Pieper will fully develop.

In his most fecund period, 1895-1935, Pepoon devotes a great deal of time to the study of the Birds Eye Primrose plant along the bluffs of the Apple River in Jo Daviess County. He provoked a minor controversy among botanists at the time who were unwilling to accept that the Primrose flourished in Jo Daviess County. Pepoon carried the argument in showing that the Primrose survived and thrived in northern Illinois latitudes precisely because the area had been spared by the glaciers millennia ago.

It was to the Apple River Canyon that Pepoon turned to argue the cause for the establishment there of a state park. He referenced the imposing, Primrose-laden bluffs reaching nearly one hundred feet and the many peculiarities and features of the Apple River environs typical of the Driftless Area. A park would serve as nature’s refuge and offer the working man and woman a release from the press and sometime banality of every day life. He was persuasive before the Illinois Academy of Sciences and ultimately before the court of public opinion, with the result that the state of Illinois set aside three hundred acres surrounding the Apple River. Today’s park bears no evidence whatsoever of Pepoon’s role in its creation.

Pepoon was an eccentric, an Emersonian, and possessed an intellect that matched his passion for nature and love of his fellow man.  To his calling as botanist he soon added that of a physician and teacher. For thirty-eight years he combined teaching at Chicago’s Lake View High School with a practice of medicine and his writing on Midwest botany. He was both pioneer and polymath and one whose kind we are not likely to encounter again soon. Perhaps the publication of this book by Ritterbusch will stir some to see Pepoon gets his due, if perhaps by the placing of a plaque in his honor at the Apple River Canyon State Park. History and justice would be well served by the gesture.

H.S. Pepoon: Pioneer Conservationist of Northwest Illinois, designed and published as a period piece, is remarkable in its own right as a special publication that reflects and comprehends the substance of the writings of Pepoon. There is an informative, luminous Foreword by William Handel of the Illinois Natural History Survey that presents Pepoon in full character and joie de vivre, to which publisher Ritterbusch lends his own music to the dance.

Robert J. Klaus

- Robert Klaus is past President of the Illinois State Historical Society and the Illinois Humanities Council.

More info here: www.prairieworksinc.com/pepoon-book/

To have your book mailed to you, email Cory and request your copy:  info@prairieworksinc.com or it’s available on Amazon.

New Services for 2011

Prairie Works is excited to announce that two new services will be added to an already diverse service list. In response to recent trends we will now be offering forest management plans and professional bird surveys.

Forest Management Plans

Prairie Works will provide forest management plans under a new division called Forest Works. All management plans will be handled by a dedicated plan writer experienced in the woodlands of Northwest Illinois.

We started Forest Works because we saw a need for a holistic perspective in the traditional practices of forestry industry. Forest Works seeks to meet the needs of our forested areas and help guide landowners through economic decisions that affect the health of their forests. Forest ecology is a very important part of landscape in the upper Midwest, and like many habitats, our forests have been through great change over the past century. As we change these forests, we bring upon ourselves great responsibilities of stewardship.

There are many consulting foresters who do excellent work to ensure timbers are managed and harvested sustainably. There are also many ecological restoration companies that eradicate invasive species and restore oak savannas and remnant prairies. But no one is combining training from both schools. This approach is the Forest Works difference. We seek to sustainably manage forests for ecological health, diversity and economic interests.

In Illinois, the Forestry Development Act program does not require a sampling of trees less than two inches in diameter. It is like the program assumes trees naturally spring forth from the ground large enough to manage. Our timber management plans sample all woody vegetation less than two inches in diameter to get a true perspective on what is replacing the existing timber stand and recommend what should be done to sustain the long-run health and diversity of the forest.

We see the entire forest’s biodiversity, looking beyond just the health and diversity of the timber. We see all the plants growing in a forest, from the first spring wildflowers to the fall woodland goldenrods. Not all foresters recognize what they are seeing under their feet, but we think these species are important indicators of forest health and diversity.

With a background in ecology as well as forestry, we see not only the good but also the bad. Invasive and non-native plants can threaten a forest’s diversity, and we know what can be done to increase that diversity. From garlic mustard and multiflora rose to autumn olive, Japanese barberry, buckthorn and honeysuckle, we see it and know what needs to be done to eradicate it.

Forest Works can handle all your stewardship issues. Beyond writing your management plan, we can also work with you to implement your plan. Whether providing the advice to carry out a management plan or conducting the work for you, Forest Works will be your stewardship partner. With Prairie Works, we can also help steward oak savanna, remnant prairie or native landscaping. By partnering together, we can offer a holistic approach to all your stewardship endeavors.

Bird Surveys

Prairie Works has teamed up with Dan Wenny, former ornithologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, to provide birding services. Dan offers a wealth of birding knowledge and experience with professional surveys and education. Dan’s expertise is now available to the public in the form of bird inventories, habitat studies, outreach and education for the private landowner.

A Prairie Works bird inventory can offer valuable information about your land and can assist in deciding what management activities are neccesary for greater bird diversity.

A bird survey can be customized to suit any needs. Typically, a comprehensive list is provided of all breeding bird species that occur on your land stemming from three separate visits. Typically, these visits occur in May, June, and July. More detailed studies are also possible.

Dan Wenny’s Experience

Dan Wenny, an ornithologist, previously worked for ten years with the Illinois Natural History Survey, based at the former Savanna Army Depot. During that time he developed research projects and biological monitoring programs involving birds and their habitats.

Ph.D. in Zoology from University of Florida
M.A. in Biology from University of Missouri-Columbia
B.A. in Biology from Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana.

15 years of experience with bird surveys, ecological research, and outreach

Federal bird-banding Master permit with extensive experience capturing, measuring, and marking birds for research projects.

Over 20 scientific articles plus numerous technical reports and popular articles.

Contact Prairie Works for more information about these and all of our services: info@prairieworksinc.com

Galena Territory Recognized as Habitat Area

The Galena Territory has been honored by the National Wildlife Federation as a certified Community Wildlife Habitat. The Territory becomes the 46th designated community in the country and the first in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

National Wildlife Federation Homeowner Sign

National Wildlife Federation Homeowner Sign

The Territory earned this certification through the help of over 100 property owners who certified their personal property as habitat areas, as well as their efforts to enhance several tracts of commonly owned ‘Greenspace’ areas. The Greenspace Committee worked for a year and a half to make this goal a reality. Roxanne Paul from the National Wildlife Federation said, ” The National Wildlife Federation commends the dedicated residents of The Galena Territory and Community Wildlife Habitat Team for their wildlife conservation efforts and for coming together for a common purpose – to create a community where people and wildlife can flourish.”

To celebrate this designation the Greenspace Committee is hosting a reception on Feburary 25th at 7:00 at The Galena Territory Owners’ Club. The speaker will be Roxanne Paul from the National Wildlife Federation.

Thank you to Emily Lubcke, Dick Peterson and the Greenspace Committee for your hard work.

About the NWF certified habitat program: http://www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife/certify.cfm

For information about certifying your Territory property contact Emily Lubcke, Greenspace Coordinator, 815-777-2000.

The Red Cedar Christmas Tree

The following article was recently published in the Freeport Journal Standard.


By Cory Ritterbusch – Today, it seems that each decision that you face as a consumer is met with an option to be “green” or even greener. From our cars to our laundry detergent, no product is without providing levels towards decreasing our carbon footprint. Some choose to ignore these options, some choose one and some go all out. This time of year a common debate, mostly for seasonal fun, is to determine what the “greenest” Christmas tree is. Traditionally this has been straightforward; Real trees versus artificial trees. This challenge always ends with a lopsided victory by the real tree. However, as we look at ‘real’ Christmas trees it’s easy to see many handicaps revolving the industry’s consumptive process. Regular inputs include herbicides, fuel, dyes and even plastic packaging. Several years ago I challenged the notion of buying a manicured, sometimes dyed green, non-native tree species, sometimes genetically modified that are trucked in from hundreds of miles away. My concern was due to an historical look at our area’s residents on a radio program.

A few years ago I was listening to Gordie Kilgore’s popular series From the Riverbank broadcasted on KDTH out of Dubuque, IA. In this particular segment Gordie described Christmas as it was at the turn of the last century. He mentioned the residents of the Tri-States used the Red Cedar tree as decorated Christmas trees. This interested me and it necessitated more research. I found that The National Christmas Tree Association, to my surprise, lists Red Cedar as the 6th most popular Christmas tree used in America. However, they are not used in homes here in the Midwest. The tradition continues today in the South but other varieties of trees started being favored here in the Upper Midwest two generations ago. This is unfortunate.

Red Cedars along the road side

Red Cedars along the road side

The Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is one of the most widespread trees in North America. It is found in every single state east of the Rockies. Being the only common native “pine” tree, Red Cedars were decorated for Christmas in area homes beginning with pioneer settlers and continuing well into the 1900s. It made a nice Christmas tree but went out of style probably due to new styles being introduced.

The Red Cedar is an invasive plant in many situations here in the Upper Midwest, invading fields, pastures, rocky slopes, fence lines and road sides. Considered by farmers as nuisance trees and by ecologists, such as myself, an invasive weed that can overtake a natural area.. With such a locally plentiful supply and the need to remove Cedars from natural areas, it sounds like a win-win situation to me. Here we have an opportunity to create a demand for unwanted trees. Utilizing invasive plants in this manner is a great way to achieve widespread sustainability. Today, 21 million Christmas trees are sold each year and are trucked into sales lots from far away.

Our Future Christmas Tree

Our Future Christmas Tree

Dragging the Cedar to the Road

Dragging the Cedar to the Road

Since I made the realization that the Red Cedar can be a suitable Christmas tree, my family has invited the Red Cedar into our home each year to spend the holidays with us. A little scraggly? Sure. But with a little trimming it can be turned into an attractive tree. After the lights and ornaments are on and the tree is fully decorated, the Red Cedar looks like a regular tree, smells like a regular tree and can stand amongst the family’s gifts, just like the Blue Spruces and Douglas Firs. The cost to us is the cost of fuel to get it, which is always low since the tree is so widespread. Usually, this comes with a thank you from the landowner who was happy to see it go.

Our Cedar Tree at Home

Our Cedar Tree at Home

In fact it is rather fun to go out and hunt for the suitable tree like our great grandparents would have 100 years ago. There are no shopping lanes full of identical trees with this approach. Each cedar tree you see is unique and finding the right one remains as a source of pride for the rest of the holiday season, after you drag it back to the road. Next year a bird will drop a berry to seed a new one and start the process over again, not a tractor. It is also fun to keep your eyes open over the course of the year for the winner that will end up in your house.

So, if you are going to be green by choosing a tree, make it a real one. If you are going to be really green, make it a Red Cedar.  As far as Christmas trees go, Red is the greenest of them all.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

http://www.christmastree.org/trees/ered_cdr.cfm National Christmas Tree Association description of Red Cedar

http://dnr.wi.gov/invasives/fact/redcedar.htm Wisconsin DNR Invasive Plant Listing

Joe Pye – The Name Behind the Legend

This is the third in a series of blog posts called “What’s in a Name,” by my colleague Richard Pearce. After thorough research, he explains to us how plants received their common and latin names.

Botanical lore and nomenclature have always been replete with inexactitudes (see for example Monkey Flower and Gooseberry in this series). But these days conjecture can be propagated instantly across the internet, taking up more or less permanent residence as “fact” in the digital cloud.

To a large extent this is what has happened with the legend of Joe Pye. Visit almost any botanical web site and you will learn that “Joe Pye,” a colloquial name for the indigenous Eutrochium purpureum came from a native American medicine man from Salem, Massachusetts who earned fame and fortune curing colonial settlers of typhus with his eponymous herb.

Other sources may add that the name Joe Pye is a phonetic translation of jopi or jopai, supposedly an early native American word for typhus.  Still others assert that Joe Pye was a 19th century Caucasian “Indian theme promoter” (these words always appearing in quotes).

Amazingly, printed books on native North American flora—even credible ones—tend to repeat one or the other versions of this story, seldom bothering to provide a reference as to the source, possibly because the authors regard it as fable.  One is anxious to know just how much truth—if any—underlies the seductive tale of an early native American who used a native plant to cure foreigners of a foreign disease.

With the help of original sources from the 18th and 19th centuries, now digitized and available online with instantly searchable texts, and a bit of old-fashioned library work, we can begin to separate fact from fancy in the Joe Pye story.

The Beginnings of a Legend

The first use of the term “Joe Pye” as a common name for a plant was in 1818.  It appeared in the widely distributed  Manual of Botany, for the Northern and Middle States of America: 2nd edition, authored by the famous New England botanist and geologist Amos Eaton, here reproduced from the original:


(Amos Eaton, Manual of Botany, for the Northern and Middle States of America: 2nd edition,1818)

According to Eaton Eupatorium purpureum and Eupatorium virticillatum were known as Joe Pye and Joe Pye’s Weed, respectively. (Eupatorium purpureum is today termed Eutrochium purpureum and E. virticillatum is most likely Eutrochium dubium, Coastal Plain Joe Pye Weed).

Still more information can be found in the 3rd edition of Manual of Botany, published four years later wherein Eaton added this tantalizing footnote:


(Amos Eaton, Manual of Botany, for the Northern and Middle States of America: 3rd edition,1822)

Changes between the 2nd and 3rd edition of Eaton’s book were modest, mostly pertaining to inevitable shifts in scientific nomenclature, making a detailed footnote on the origin of the name Joe Pye conspicuous. For our purposes it contains three important clues.

First, Eaton directly states that Joe Pye is taken from the “name of an Indian,” not a White man posing as one.  Second, he places the use of the plant as a diaphoretic (sweat inducer) in western Massachusetts—not in Salem on the eastern seaboard as the Joe Pye legend of today usually asserts.  Third, we learn that president Moore of Williams College used a tea made from one or both of the Eupatorium species listed by Eaton to treat his own “alarming” fever.

Zephaniah Swift Moore was President of Williams College from 1815 to 1821.  In 1817, Amos Eaton delivered a series of lectures there on botany and geology. Likely, it was during this time that Eaton learned of Moore’s success in treating his fever with “the liberal and continued use” of Joe Pye’s weed.

The nature of Moore’s fever is unknown and we cannot, of course, attribute any efficacy to his herbal brew on the basis of a single report no matter how enlightened the source.  However, it is entirely fair to accept the words of two gentlemen who supposed that Moore’s illness had been cured by a plant known to them as “Joe Pye”.

Before Eaton’s Manual of Botany, and for a time afterward, the popular names for E. purpureum were Trumpet Weed, Gravel Root, Gravelweed, Purple Boneset, Purple Thoroughwort, and Queen (or King) of the Meadow, among several others. Today these names are rarely in use and Joe Pye has become the preferred common term for E. purpureum.  (“Gravel” alludes to the plant’s other supposed medical use, eliminating kidney stones, or “gravel.”)

Joe Pye as a botanical name reappears in 1828 when the famous botanist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque included it in his Medical Flora: Or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America. In Rafinesque’s book, Eutrochium purpureum and Eupatorium perfoliatum are both identified as Joe Pye Weeds.  The latter species was then as now more commonly known as Boneset.


(Rafinesque, Medical Flora: Or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828)

The wording is close to Eaton’s, suggesting that his Manual of Botany may have been Rafinesque’s source.  There are no other books in and around this time that use the term Joe Pye for any Eupatorium or Eutrochium species.  Not until the 1840s does “Joe Pye” fully and permanently enter the plant lexicon.  Botanical catalogues of native plants from that time on, such as the notable works by Mrs. Wm. Starr Dana, Neltje Blanchan, Ferdinand Schuyler Mathews, Britton and Brown, and the eminent Harvard botanist, Asa Gray, all give Joe Pye Weed as the preferred popular name for E.  purpureum.


Mathews, Familiar flowers of field and garden, 1895

So, it can be safely asserted that the term Joe Pye—at least in print—originated with Amos Eaton in 1818, was reiterated by Rafinesque in 1828, and finally came into wide use in the latter half of the 19th century.

But if Eaton was the first to use “Joe Pye,” where did he get the name?  For the likely answer we must return again to Williams College.

Continue reading ‘Joe Pye – The Name Behind the Legend’