Helenium virginicum

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: sneezeweed 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Asteraceae
Native Range: Virginia, Missouri
Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: September to October
Bloom Description: Yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Rain Garden
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Butterflies
Tolerate: Deer

Culture

Easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun. Prefers rich, moist soils. Intolerant of dry soils. Avoid overfertilization, which may cause plants to grow too tall. Although not required, plants may be cut back in May-early June to reduce plant height and to encourage branching, thus leading to a more floriferous bloom, healthier foliage and less need for support. Remove spent flowers to encourage additional bloom. Cut back plants by 1/2 after flowering. Divide clumps as needed (every 3-4 years) to maintain vigor.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Helenium virginicum, commonly called Virginia sneezeweed, is currently listed by the federal government as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and by the State of Virginia as endangered. This plant was originally believed to exist only on the margins of about 30 seasonally flooded sinkhole ponds and meadows in two adjacent counties in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Although a plant population was discovered in far-away Missouri near Pomona in 1960, considerable skepticism as to its true identity continued for the next 40 years. Finally, DNA testing performed in 2000 validated the Missouri population as H. virginicum. Renewed search efforts in 2003-2004 resulted in the discovery of 44 different plant populations in 5 separate Missouri counties in the Ozarks. The plant is now listed as threatened by the State of Missouri. Although theories have been proposed, there is no generally accepted answer at this point as to why this plant only exists in two geographically distant areas. Virginia sneezeweed typically grows 2-3.5’ tall on winged stems rising from a clump of basal leaves that vary in shape from oblong to broad in the middle. Lance-shaped stem leaves become progressively smaller toward the top of the stem. Basal leaves and lower stem leaves have distinctive coarse hairs. Flowers bloom from late July to early October and feature wedge-shaped, drooping, bright yellow rays with prominent rounded dull yellow center disks. Plants are similar to the common Helenium autumnale, except for growing habitat, leaf and stem hairs and leaf shape.

Genus name comes from the Greek name helenion which is the name of a Greek plant which honors Helen of Troy. It is unclear as to the relevance of Helen of Troy to the within genus of plants which are exclusively native to North and South America.

Specific epithet means of Virginia.

Powdered disk flowers and leaves of the sneezeweeds have in the past been dried and used as snuff, thus giving rise to the common name.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Sneezeweed foliage is generally susceptible to powdery mildew, leaf spot and rust.

Garden Uses

Ongoing efforts are taking place to increase populations of this rare species in the wild. At this time, this threatened/endangered species cannot be legally collected from the wild and is not available for purchase in plant or seed form.