May 7, 2020
Helenium autumnale is commonly known as sneezeweed. Before you curse it as an enemy of your late season allergies know that it gains its name from once being dried and used as snuff in order to sneeze out evil spirits and head colds. This herbaceous perennial might be recognizable from a local hike or drive down the interstate as it is native to most of the U.S. and much of Canada. Often found along sunny streams, wet meadows, even in ditches, these are indicators that it requires moist soil and will tolerate a wide range of soil types. Growing in full sun it will reach three to five feet tall with hairy stems, leaves that are narrow and lance shaped, and produce an abundance of flowers ranging in colors of dusty yellow to a rusty red. Due to the number of flower heads it can become quite top heavy and will require staking earlier in the season. Alternatively, use the trick of reducing the plant in late June. This cut back will create a more branching and shorter habit that is less likely to flop over. Late summer brings these daisy-like flowers that can persist all the way to frost if deadheaded. There are several cultivated varieties out there but sticking with the species, which is already a terrific garden plant, might offer more benefits to the visiting bees and butterflies. The genus name, Helenium, is thought to be in honor of Helen of Troy named by Linnaeus. Although this genus is native to North and South America, legend says that these flowers sprang forth from where Helen’s tears once fell.
Written by Lise Lorimer, Horticulture & Garden Education