“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.