Native Plant Spotlight: Sunflower Everlasting


For today’s edition of Native Plant Spotlight, I actually had originally miss-identified for quite a while.  But now I know better, and so, a good topic for this spotlight.  About this time of year I see blooming along my bike path to work/running path network a tall, yellow, sunflower family flower.  It seems to like sun, but is found in partial shade, medium, yet disturbed soil and will grow into respectable colonies of many meters in length in some spots.  I admired, but never looked close- and so- assumed it was Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus.

But what should I have learned about assuming by now?

See, from afar H. tuberosus and Sunflower Everlasting (or oxeye or false sunflower, but I think Sunflower Everlasting sounds divine) aka Heliopsis helanthoides look very similar.  I had to inspect the disk flower (the center portion) to really see the difference.  H. tuberosus has a small, flatter disk in comparison to H. helianthoides and H. helianthoides has a remarkably beautiful disk flower.  Observe:


Each one is separate and identifiable, unlike so many other sunflowers/aster family members with the center just jam-packed.  You can see that each disk flower is actually a flower.  And for that, I really wanted to give this plant a shout-out.

Heliopsis species fall into the DYC (damn yellow composite) family, meaning my ID may be off- and apparently they can cross pollinate, causing even the most stalwart botanists to pull their hair out.  But upon cross-checking to other likely culprits (the aforementioned H. tubersus and the swamp sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius)

Technically, I’ve read in my Wildflowers of New England guide that it is not native to my Massachusetts, but is native to the rest of eastern US.  And so I see that as splitting hairs.  Is it forcing out other natives?  Probably not terribly.  Does it spread with reckless abandon?  Doesn’t seem to.  And so I forgive it.

Cheers sunflower everlasting!




Native Plant Spotlight: Sneezeweed


“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.


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.


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.

Native Plant Spotlight: Jewelweed


You know what they say about assuming.

For years, running along this boardwalk- nearly weekly- based on some of the plants before me – the Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), Phragmites & purple loosestrife, I assumed that all the plants that congregated in this marshy area at the head of the Alewife Brook were invasive.  I ran right by a beautiful little treasure that I want to highlight today.  A wonderful native annual that is in the same family as a common annual you may have in your yard or in a container on your porch.

Impatiens capensis or Jewelweed.


Jewelweed gets it’s common name from how drops of dew collect and shimmer like jewels on this marshy-loving annual’s leaves.  It’s orangy-yellow bilateral flowers bloom through most of the summer.  They hang under the leaves and don’t look much at all like it’s well known cousin- Impatiens walleriana.  But the impatien family is vast and the shady planter box favorite is just one of many in this geographically well distributed genus.  (Also above- a little swamp milkweed for fun)


However, when you pick one of jewelweed’s slender seed pods and give it a little squeeze, you are immediately reminded of the common nursery annual.  The pods burst with gusto, inverting into a swirly shape- sending seeds out in every-which-way.

So thank you jewelweed.  Thank you for reminding me to look carefully and look twice.  Even in human disturbed areas saturated with invasives, wonderful native specimens may be holding their own.  I will no longer assume!

Have you encountered any unexpected floral treasures when you looked twice?  Or like me, is there a patch near you full of invasives that you want to give a second look to?