helenium-sneezeweed-csutilxeriscapegarden-9aug2006-lah165rWhy would you grow a flower called Sneezeweed? Picture a striking, three-foot high perennial covered with 2 to 3 inch daisy-like flowers of yellow, orange, red, rust, and copper. The leaves are six inches long, lance-shaped and dark green. Actually, the name comes from the use of the dried leaves and flowers as snuff; the pollen is unlikely to cause hay fever. However, handling the plant can cause an allergic reaction, so it’s wise to use gloves. Also, the plants are bitter and toxic, so keep them away from small children and pets.

Bearing the scientific name Helenium, Sneezeweed is native to the Midwest, so it needs supplemental irrigation in our drier climate. Give it good drainage and don’t let it dry out. It’s not picky about soils; high fertility results in lanky plants that need staking. Grow this completely hardy plant in full sun.

Plants started from seed in early spring will bloom their first summer. Pinch back in late spring to increase branching and create a more compact plant, then cut back by half after bloom. Overgrown clumps may be divided every few years in spring.

helenium-sneezeweed-csutilxeriscapegarden-9aug2006-lah165rSneezeweed’s informal appearance is especially suitable for cottage gardens and naturalized areas. Butterflies and bees are attracted to flowers, and the leaves provide food for some caterpillar species. Songbirds eat the seeds. Try combining it with ornamental grasses and other warm-hued flowers that share a late-summer bloom time. Or, contrast its sunny colors with a foreground of cool lavender catmint or hardy sage, which also serve to hide the scraggly base of the plant.

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