Sneezeweed, Swamp Sunflower – Flowers

(Helenium autumnale) Thistle family

Flower-heads—Bright yellow, 1 to 2 in. across, numerous, borne on long peduncles in corymb-like clusters ; the rays 3 to 5 cleft, and drooping around the yellow or yellowish-brown disk. Stem: 2 to 6 ft. tall, branched above. Leaves : Alternate, firm, lance-shaped to oblong, toothed, seated on stem or the bases slightly decurrent ; bitter.

Preferred Habitat—Swamps, wet ground, banks of streams.

Flowering Season—August—October.

Distribution—Quebec to the Northwest Territory ; southward to Florida and Arizona.

September, which also brings out lively masses of the swamp sunflower in the low-lying meadows, was appropriately called our golden month by an English traveller who saw for the first time the wonderful yellows in our autumn foliage, the surging seas of golden-rod, the tall, showy sunflowers, ox-eyes, rudbeckias, marigolds, and all the other glorious composites in Nature’s garden, as in men’s, which copy the sun’s resplendent disk and rays to brighten with one final dazzling outburst the sombre face of the dying year.

To the swamp sunflowers honey-bees hasten for both nectar and pollen, velvety bumblebees suck the sweets, leaf-cutter and mason bees, wasps, some butterflies, flies, and beetles visit them daily, for the round disks mature their perfect fertile florets in succession. Since the drooping ray flowers, which are pistillate only, are fertile too, there is no scarcity of seed set, much to the farmer’s dismay. Most cows know enough to respect the bitter leaves’ desire to be let alone ; but many a pail of milk has been spoiled by a mouthful of Helenium among the herbage. Whoever cares to learn from experience why this was called the sneezeweed, must take a whiff of snuff made of the dried and powdered leaves.

The Purple-head Sneezeweed (H. nudiflorum), its yellow rays sometimes wanting, occurs in the South and West.