Outdoors Recreation

In Bloom: Sneezeweed

By Suzanne Wodek

Helenium autumnale, commonly called sneezeweed, is an erect, clump-forming, native perennial that occurs in moist soils along streams, ponds, ditches and in spring-fed meadows. Helenium comes from the Greek name helenion which is the name given to the plant by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. The legend is that flowers sprang up from the ground where Helen of Troy’s tears fell. It is unclear as to the relevance of Helen to the genus of plants which is exclusively native to North and South America. Autumnale refers to the plant’s autumn flowering. Powdered disk flowers and leaves of this species have in the past been dried and used as snuff, thus giving rise to the common name of sneezeweed.

Sneezeweed. Anne Holmes, artist

Sneezeweed is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun. It prefers rich, moist soils and is intolerant of dry soils. Avoid over-fertilization which may cause plants to grow too tall and need to be staked. The large and numerous daisy-like, yellow flowers of Helenium autumnale can provide welcome color in late summer and autumn when many other blossoms have disappeared. Word of caution: the leaves, flowers, and seeds are poisonous to humans if eaten in large quantities, causing gastric and intestinal irritation, which can become fatal. Good news is that deer tend to avoid this plant.

Upcoming Event
Invasive Plants of Asheville: Their Ecology & Control with Steve Norman
Sunday, August 20, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Meet at the Garden’s Visitor Center (Outdoor Class)
Non-native invasive plants are an increasing threat to Asheville’s urban landscape—including the Gardens—with problematic species including trees, shrubs, vines and herbaceous plants. While most arrived through the nursery trade and escaped from cultivation over the last 150 years, others were deliberately planted for practical reasons before we realized that their benefits came with tradeoffs (such as kudzu!).

Research ecologist Steve Norman will discuss the biological attributes and habitat of our most problematic non-native invasives of Asheville’s urban forests, greenways and stream banks. He will lead participants on a walk to visit nearby patches of invasives, focusing on how they can be recognized and managed by citizen scientists. Norman is a research ecologist with the US Forest Service in Asheville where he monitors forest change over the short and long term, using everything from historical records to cutting-edge space technology. He’s particularly interested in how invasives take advantage of disturbances such as wildfire and development. A resident of Western North Carolina since 2007, he is an avid hiker, cyclist, gardener and long-time supporter of the Botanical Gardens at Asheville.

Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the southern Appalachian Mountains. Gardens are open sunup to sundown. The gift shop, carrying garden-themed items and books, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Membership benefits include a discount of 10 percent on purchases in the gift shop, an extensive collection of gardening and nature books in the Cole Library that members can check out (reference collection not included), our quarterly New Leaf newsletter, and tours and programs at a reduced rate. Learn more at AshevilleBotanicalGardens.org.

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