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Helenium DAutumnale

by Jeannie Chambers

Helenium takes the garden spotlight as the curtain goes up for the fall finale.

Helenium sort of sashays into your landscape late summer and prances around throughout September. She may not be a showstopper, but she certainly has perfect timing as most of the other flowers are fading out of the spotlight.

With a name like Helenium, she sort of demands respect, right? I bet she never knew others would give her the derogatory, common name of Sneezeweed! Her given name was after Helen of Troy, the daughter of Zeus and the most beautiful woman in Greece.

Now, that’s enough to make one feel special. Sneezeweed indeed! Some people think that just because Helenium blooms the same time as Ragweed, she got a bad rap for making people sneeze; a good example of being judged by the company you keep. Sneezeweed actually got its name not because the flower makes you sneeze, but because of what the leaves were used for. In the old timey days, leaves were dried and crushed to make a powder called snuff. One was supposed to inhale the snuff, making one sneeze and thereby ridding their body of evil spirits.

There are over 30 species of Helenium, but I like the one named Helenium Autumnale. The name Autumnale tells me when it will bloom and it’s sort of like two words combined – Autumn-finale. This early fall beauty grows from two to five feet, and grows erect on sturdy stems, but if allowed to grow too tall, they’ll likely need staking to keep them from drooping over. Like Chrysanthemums, trim them back in summer to create shorter stems with more blooms.

Helenium may seem sort of weedy to some passersby, and these are not usually found in formal gardens, but give her credit for bringing color to the landscape. The flowers are great for cut flower arrangements. The flowers are fan-shaped and surround a large round golden head. Picture watching a ballet from above, the dancer is the round head, and the petals are bright yellow-orange-reddish pieces of costume material that fan out, almost swirling as a dancer twirls. She’s dancing the last dance of summer, the closing show.

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