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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Native Plant Spotlight: Jewelweed

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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.

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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)

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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?