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Ottawa Society of Botanical Artists

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Sneezeweed

AN AMERICAN NATIVE PLANT

Patricia van der Linde

Helenium autumnale

Also know as Helen’s Tears: named by Linnaeus for Helen of Troy; legend says that the flowers sprang from the ground where her tears fell.

A member of Asteraceae

Blooming in August and September, the yellow daisy-like flowers grow from sparse branches off a single stem. The plants grow in clusters 90-150 cm tall, and have shallow fibrous roots.

Photo: © Patricia van der Linde

Photo: © Patricia van der Linde

Appearance of the flower

The daisy-like flowers (3.8 – 5 cm across) have a globoid ball-like structure in the center. The disk flower is a corolla of numerous tiny tube florets, dull yellow in colour.

The dense flowerhead (called capitula) is a cluster of many tiny (.3 cm) florets and rays which whorl around the edges.  The rays, or fan-shaped petals, have three teeth or notches surrounding a spherical cone.

Photo: © Patricia van der Linde

Photo: © Patricia van der Linde

A closer look

The flowers do not have much of a stalk. Brownish green bracts (modified leaves) whorl underneath the petals.

The spherical head of the mature plant is covered with pollen, attracting bees and butterflies that pollinate the flowers.

Photo: © Patricia van der Linde

Leaves and stems

There are numerous sage-green leaves, narrow and oval-shaped, tapering to a point (lanceolate). The leaf margins are denticulated (few teeth).

The leaves are attached directly to the stem (petiolate), and are often tri-foliate in structure on alternating hairy stems,  continuing down the stem like wings.

The stem is branched and cylindrical with glandular hairs.

Photo: © Patricia van der Linde

Etymology

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin used crushed dried leaves and flowers to make snuff; if inhaled, it would cause sneezing that would rid the body of evil spirits.

Sneezeweed is also known as Bitterweed: its leaves, flowers, seeds are poisonous to humans and livestock and can cause skin rash (sesquiterpene lacones).

Habitat

The plant can be found in thickets, swamps, wet meadows throughout North America, and prefers full or filtered light. The map below shows its location in the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Pollinators:   Bees are now the main pollinators of the magnolia.  Magnolias don’t produce nectar but instead have pollen that is enriched with proteins, which bees use as food.

The magnolia contains both male and female reproductive organs (monoecious).

Magnolias have numerous stamens located in a whorl at the base of the ovary, below the pistil.  In the magnolia, the pollen is received by the ovary, which is inside the pistal.  Once pollination has taken place, the pollen-producing stamens are shed, revealing the cone-like ovary where seeds form.

When pollination is successful, bright orange seeds develop in late summer and drop out from their follicles, often in the winter.  The seeds are a favourite food of many birds.

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild