Plant Profile – Helenium

Aka: Sneezeweed, Helen’s flower, bitterweed, and false Sunflower

Heleniums were first used as a snuff, its dried powdered leaves being sniffed, causing the sniffer to sneeze violently and thus rid themselves of evil spirits… of course!

These days though we are more likely to use this American beauty to grace our summer borders where it can be seen flowering from July to first frosts in some cases.

Although they were introduced to Europe in 1729 they didn’t really feature highly in garden design as the species are quite specific about the environments they like and can in some cases be difficult to place in traditional designs. The plants we most often use today however are in fact hybrids, from what I can gather most of the initial commercial work was in fact done between 1930-60 by the legendary German Karl Foerster. He produced over 70 different varieties many of which are still available today.

Its thought that most of the breeding involved Helenium autumnale and Helenium bigelovii  with a dash of Helenium flexuosum for good measure! It mostly gets lumped in under the autumnale umbrella though

For the insect conscious amongst us, which lets face it ought to be all of us these days, they are particularly beloved of bees, hoverflies AND butterflies and so can be a great addition to the mid border range. Most reach a height of around 3 to 4ft and will sometimes benefit from staking. They perform best on soil that retains some moisture but prefer full sun. Most will struggle in shade. Find an area its happy in though and WOOF! you’re in for a real firework display!

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