For wet spaces, common sneezeweed is found along stream banks, in wet meadows and other wetland areas.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Helenium autumnale is an upright clumping perennial wildflower. Plants have unique winged stems clothed in elongated bright green leaves. In autumn foliage is crowned by an abundance of golden daisy-like flower heads. The blooms are visited by throngs of pollinators. This adaptable plant will grow in any site that has sun or part sun and wet to moist soils.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Helenium autumnale occurs throughout the United States and in most of the Canadian provinces.
Habitats include moist Blackland prairies and meadows, open moist woodlands, marshes, fens, soggy thickets, wet fields, moist margins of streams, creeks, ponds and ditches. This species is usually found within a short distance of water in undisturbed or disturbed sites.
Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 3-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Helenium autumnale is an erect branched perennial with stout green winged stems and shallow fibrous roots.
Leaves are lance shaped or elliptical and about 5” long. They are toothed or almost entire. The base can be sessile or may clasp the stem.
Stems terminate in numerous 2” daisy-like heads. Each head consists of a golden globe shaped cluster of disc florets surrounded by yellow or bronze ray florets. Each ray is narrowly triangular with two teeth on the tip.
Flowering begins in late summer or early fall and continues for 1-2 months. Rusty brownish seed clusters follow.
Plants grow 3-5’ tall with 3’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Helenium autumnale is easy to grow in most sunny sites.
This species prefers loamy or silty soils that are high in organic matter. Plants thrive in wet or evenly moist soil but will tolerate a bit of drought after establishment.
In garden situations, avoid fertilization as it can cause stems to become weak. A spring pruning can encourage stronger branching and denser growth.
Plants are pest resistant and unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
LANDSCAPE USES: This is a good choice for a Wildlife Garden, Prairie or Meadow. Plants are also used as Butterfly Nectar Plants or as part of a Grouping or Mass. Helenium autumnale has Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Rain Gardens, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders and Roadsides.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Helenium autumnale with Aster novae-angliae, Eupatorium maculatum, Hibiscus moscheutos, Monarda fistulosa, Liatris spicata, Panicum virgatum or Andropogon gerardii.
Rudbeckia laciniata could be substituted in some situations. The two have similar flower apprearance and cultural requirements.
TRIVIA: Native bees, honeybees, wasps, pollinating flies, butterflies and beetles seek the nectar and pollen. Mammalian herbivores usually do not feed on the toxic bitter foliage. Livestock are reported to have been severely poisoned after eating this plant when other forage was not available.
Plants recover poorly from fire and are usually found only in the wetter parts of prairies and meadows that are burned.
Helenium autumnale has an undeserved reputation as a cause of hayfever and fall allergies. The flowers of this species are pollinated by insects instead of wind so they have heavy, sticky pollen that is not easily inhaled.
Known as Sneezeweed because the flowers were pulverized to make a snuff that induced sneezing. This reaction was believed to clear the head, relieve headaches and perhaps cause the evacuation of those pesky evil spirits.
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=HEAU