Description & Overview

Common Sneezeweed is a native perennial found throughout most of Wisconsin, except a couple of northern counties. Green, lance-shaped leaves are on green, winged stems topped with numerous two-inch daisy-like, yellow blooms. This plant is fond of moist to wet soils and is commonly found in fens, marshes, wet fields, ditches, stream/creek/pond banks, and black soil prairies. Common Sneezeweed may also be known as Helenium or Helen’s Flower.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 3-5 feet

Mature Spread: 2-3 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Upright, erect

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Moist to wet soil

Flower: Golden yellow, 2", daisy-like, wedge-shaped with notches at the tip

Bloom Period: August – October

Foliage: Green, lance-shaped, about 5" long finely serrated

Fall Color: None

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Rusty seed cluster

Suggested Uses

With Sneezeweed’s preference for moist soils, it is a great candidate for a rain or water garden. Plant toward the back or the center as the plants tend to get taller. Cheery yellow flowers brighten up any native garden during the late season, and it looks great paired with other late-blooming forbs and grasses such as asters, goldenrod, and ornamental grasses.

Sneezeweed can also be added to any moist-to-wet prairie restoration, wetland remediation, or native planting project. This species also does well in roadside ditches, bioswales, and low-lying areas around streams or ponds.

The late blooms are a welcoming sight for a variety of pollinators, especially as they gear up for winter. The bees will thank you!

Wildlife Value

The most common visitors to Sneezeweed flowers are long-tongued bees such as Honeybees (Apis spp.), Bumblebees (Bombus spp.), Long-horned bees (Melissodes spp.), Cuckoo bees (Coelioxys spp., Triepeolus spp.), and Leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.). These insects feed on nectar but some will collect pollen.

Other visitors include Sphecid wasps, Vespid wasps, Syrphid flies, and Halictid bees. Moths and skippers that visit the flowers include the Northern Metalmark (Calephelis borealis), Duke’s Skipper (Euphyes dukesi), Dion Skipper (Euphyes dion), Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius), and Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus).

Common Sneezeweed is the host plant for the Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole).

The Rigid Sunflower Borer Moth (Papaipema rigida), will bore into the stems and feed on the pith.

Songbirds will eat the seeds once the flowers have faded.

Maintenance Tips

There is no need to fertilize as this may cause the stems to become weak and floppy.

Fertilizer is not necessary and can cause tall and spindly growth.

Plants often become so tall that staking will need to be implemented. Alternatively, Sneezeweed can be cut back in early summer (late June or early July) to force shorter, more-branched flowering heads.

Clumps can be divided every 3 to 5 years to maintain vigor.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

Powdery mildew and leaf spots can affect the foliage. Avoid overhead watering and provide plants with plenty of air circulation.

Leaf Lore

The genus name Helenium is in honor of Helen of Troy. Legend has it that these flowers sprang from the ground where Helen’s tears fell. The specific epithet autumnale refers to its autumn flowering period.

Common Sneezeweed leaves, flowers, and seeds are poisonous to humans if consumed. The plant is also poisonous to livestock, and a compound in sneezeweed is poisonous to fish and dogs. It has a crystalline structure that irritates mucous membranes.

The common name, Sneezeweed is based on the historic use of crushing dried leaves and heads to form a snuff that caused sneezing. The idea was to remove evil spirits from the body that may have caused illness or to loosen up a head cold by sneezing. Insects pollinate the flowers, not the wind; therefore, it does not have small pollen grains that cause sneezing and other hay fever symptoms.

Companion Plants

Other mid-to-late season blooming plants that would complement Sneezeweed include:

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Written by Beth DeLain