Native Plant Spotlight: Sneezeweed

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“And here is where I put the sneezeweed…”

“You just planted what?”

That, I believe, was the reaction at my glee this past spring- upon my planting 7 plugs of Helenium autumnale – Common Sneezeweed.

Maybe I should have used the Latin name.  Sounds much prettier and wouldn’t have everyone preemptively reaching for a box of tissues.

Despite it’s name, Sneezeweed is not a source of fall allergies.  When the flower is dried and crushed, in an effort to extract the seeds, then it is very sneeze-inducing.  That seems to be the origin of it’s common name.  A member of the sunflower/aster family, it has many tell tale features of the family, but is quite unique in its own way.

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The central disk is globular, much like a coneflower, but less than an inch across.  Around 10 ray flowers come off and away at the base in a triple lobed pattern.  Like a triple heart!

Flowers branch off the main stem, often times dozens at a time.  In my reading about sneezeweed it seems that they can grow very tall, (mine are about 3 feet tall- it’s their first year and I didn’t site them optimally)  but cutting them back in June can induce a shorter and more branched habit, which may be more conducive to the garden setting.

Sneezeweed can be found in every continental US state (except Vermont according to this map?  I find that unlikely) and throughout much of Canada.

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In the wild, sneezeweed prefers a moist environment and full sun.  It will grow fine in a garden with well amended soil.  I started these this year from small live plants (plugs from Prairie Moon), watering them often in their first months of life.  We had a few short spells of drought, but a decently wet summer, which I’m sure helped them establish.  They always looked hale and hearty- unlike some rose milkweed next to it, which often looked thirsty- so their water requirement isn’t extreme.  My site, along a sunny side yard gets about 6 hours of morning to early afternoon sun.  So maybe they’d be more robust if slightly wetter and a few more hours of sun, but they seem to be ok.

There are a few cultivated nativars of sneezeweed, with shorter habits and different coloration out there.  However, in some cases cultivars are not as attractive to pollinators as the native version- so if creating a healthy habitat for wildlife is one of your goals, stick to the original.

As cut flowers they last well, I brought many inside as part of a small garden bouquet and they look unchanged 4 days later.

Sneezeweed can be a beautiful native addition to the fall garden, presenting a different look than the goldenrods and asters that typify this time of year.

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