This clump-forming perennial in the aster family is a standout at attracting pollinators and other interesting insects, and no part of the plant goes to waste! (See wildlife info below.) It grows 3-6’ tall, depending on the amount of sun and soil moisture--tallest, most-vigorous growth occurs in partial sun and moist, well-drained soil. As sun exposure increases, so should moisture. The erect, purplish stems are largely unbranched except for occasional side stems toward the top, where dense clusters of tiny, pure-white flowers bring life to late-summer gardens (another common name is late-flowering thoroughwort).
Late bonset has a tall, narrow growth habit and two cousins with a similar appearance. Tall boneset has narrower, less coarsely serrated leaves than late boneset, while common boneset has leaves that wrap around the stem. Late boneset spreads by self-seeding and rhizomes to form colonies, but it tends to be well behaved and is suitable for smaller gardens and urban sites.
Native habitats include moist meadows, swamps, areas near drainage ditches, low-lying areas along railroads and roadsides, and abandoned fields. Plant in native-plant gardens, cottage gardens, or in wide swaths in naturalized areas and meadows. It pairs nicely with natives such as ironweed, Joe pye weed, purple coneflower, and dense blazing star.
Grows 3-6’ tall.
Prefers full to part sun.
Grows in moist, well-drained soils, including sandy, loamy, or clay soils.
Flat-topped inflorescence of numerous heads of white disk florets bloom at tips of stems September-November. Each flower head has around a dozen disk florets that are ¼” long and tubular. Small achenes with flat tufts of hair follow.
Highly textured, lance-shaped leaves are up to 7” long and coarsely serrated. Each plant has one to several erect, purple stems that transition to green with faint, reddish ridges.
Members of the Eupatorium genus host 32 different species of moths and butterflies, including the moths camouflaged looper, clymene, and ruby tiger. Three-lined flower moths eat the flowers and seed capsules, and eupatorium borer moths feed on the roots (all 5 of these moths are pictured here in order, some preceded by their caterpillars). Many different kinds of insects find the blooms irresistible, including long- and short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, skippers, moths, and beetles. Goldfinches, juncos, and other seed-eating birds eagerly eat the seeds in fall.
Late boneset offers both pollen and nectar, and the flowers appear in late summer and fall when few other plants are blooming. This timing coincides with the migration of the now-endangered monarch butterflies, providing important fuel for their long flights.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
According to some experts, boneset gets its name for its ability to relieve the bone aches associated with severe fever symptoms, and it was once believed to facilitate the setting and healing of broken bones. Although potentially toxic, it was widely used during the Civil War in the south because it was readily available and effective at treating symptoms. Native Americans taught European settlers to use this plant as a principal herbal remedy. It was used well into the 20th century in rural areas. It has a bitter taste and was served as a cold or hot tea that caused patients to sweat and thus break the fever.
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