Helenium, also known as sneezeweed and Helen’s flower, is our August Plant of the Month. It can be difficult to find a plant of the month for August, because a lot of plants are either finishing up blooming, or not starting to bloom yet. But the sneezeweeds are going strong, and blooming well. There are around 20 species of Helenium in North America, most of which are perennial. 3 of those species can be found within the Central Great Plains, 2 perennial, and 1 annual.
In the wild, most of the perennial sneezeweeds grow in wet or marshy areas, but are very adaptable in the garden. I have 2 species growing in my yard, one from a marsh 15 miles south of me, and the other is our annual species. Both do very well in the garden. And the third species is where many of the cultivars come from.
Species and Cultivars of Helenium
There is at least one species of Helenium native to every state in the lower 48 of the US. And 3 here in Kansas. That means that everyone can and should get some for their gardens. You do not have to have a wetland or bog to grow them either, although some species may need moist soil to flower.
Purple Headed Sneezeweed – H. flexuosum
The brownish-purple center of the flower is the give-away for distinguishing this from other Heleniums. It is also where many of our cultivars come from. In the wild, it is native from the Missouri River eastward, and can be found in Southeast Kansas. It commonly grows 1 to 3 feet tall and wide, and does best in Zones 5 to 9. According to research from the Mt. Cuba Center, this species is a prolific self-spreader, reseeding across the garden. So be aware, and ready to give plant to your friends.
Common Sneezeweed – H. autumnale
Found throughout the US, common sneezeweed is a lover of marshy areas, but is very adaptable in the garden. Instead of the purple of the above species, common sneezeweed has bright golden yellow flower heads and petals. It is also a parent to many cultivars. The petals are somewhat droopy, unlike many of the cultivars. It grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, shorter in drier locations.
Bitter Sneezeweed – H. amarum
The only annual of this group, I included it because it is a Helenium and because it is the best of the 3 for pollinators. And it is very long-blooming. In my gardens, I use the cultivar ‘Dakota Gold’, which was selected in Texas. Not only does it love the heat, but once it starts blooming, it does not stop until the first frost. Its shorter than the other sneezeweeds, and is great for borders in the annual or vegetable garden. I have observed a lot of different pollinators on Dakota Gold. It grows 8 to 18 inches tall and wide.
Best Helenium Cultivars
- Can-Can grows 3 to 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide. It has red petals tipped in gold with purple-headed cones.
- Potter’s Wheel grows 3 to 4 feet tall and does require staking. The flowers are red with just a tiny bit of gold on the ends.
- Sunball grows very tall, up to 6 feet, and requires caging or staking to keep it from flopping. The flowers are bright yellow.
Pollinators of Sneezeweed
Like I mentioned above, there are a lot of pollinators which visit Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’. I have also observed a number of insects on the other species and cultivars in my garden. The flowers are visited by bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, and moths.
Companion Plants of Helenium
When planting sneezeweed in the garden, most varieties require staking. So it might be best to plant it with sturdy, upright plants that can help support it. These are just a few of those plants which not only help support sneezeweed, but also complement its flowers with theirs.
- Greyhead coneflower
- Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’
- Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’
- Joe Pye Weed
- Obedient Plant
- Culver’s Root
- Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’
- Rudbeckia ‘Little Henry’
- New England Aster
- Western Ironweed
Helenium is a great flower to add to the cottage garden. Or, if you have one, put it in the rain or bog garden, where the soil moisture will help it to flower better. Adding it will not only help pollinators, but will improve garden diversity, something we all need to focus on more with our altered climate issues.