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Native Plants Series: Sneezeweed

I have been experimenting with Helenium in my own garden in the last year and am happy to report that this is a native plant that has undergone quite a bit of study in recent years -- it's featured in one of Mt. Cuba's famed plant studies along with a Master Gardener citizen scientist study.

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) is native throughout North America. Here in South Central PA, seven species of butterflies and moths use them as a host plant. Growing 3-5' tall and blooming in late summer to fall, sneezeweed blooms in cheerful bright yellow blossoms that remind me of a badminton shuttlecock. They prefer medium to wet soils.

I personally have found that when not densely planted, Sneezeweed can sprawl outward - it definitely should be planted snuggly with some friends. Some may even need support. It can also benefit from the "Chelsea Chop" - cutting back to 12" in May - resulting in a shorter plant and later bloom time.

There are many Helenium cultivars on the market, SOME are cultivars or hybrids of Helenium autumnale. They have been chosen generally for their color and/or stem sturdiness. Both studies I mentioned found that the straight species attracted the most pollinators.

Mt. Cuba lists the following cultivars and hybrids as the highest performers for the Mid-Atlantic region in addition to the straight species: 'Kanaria' (canary yellow), 'Zimbelstern' (apricot streaked yellow), 'Can Can' (orange), and 'Fammenspiel' (fiery red). You can find out more on the Mt. Cuba study on their website.

Sources: Mt. Cuba Center, USDA, National Wildlife Federation, Missouri Botanical Garden, Master Gardener study "Pollinator Preferences"

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