Helen’s Flower

June 23, 2009 Christopher 016 (2)
A couple of years ago a new summer flowering plant was added to the Fairegarden. Not especially showy or splashy, but with a name that could not be denied. Helenium, or Helen’s flower. Helen was my mother’s name. Her middle name was Frances.
(Shown above trying to break through to center stage between two Eryngiums.)

June 18, 2009 027 (2)June 18, 2009 029 (2)

The flowers were so cheerful and brought to mind such fond memories, a second plant was added. Both were H. ‘Mardi Gras’ and they were indeed like a joyful party.

July 5, 2008 017 (2)
The little buzzers found the pincushion heads to be the perfect spot to kick up their heels. If they have heels.

September 2, 2008 029 (2)
Drought tolerant and standing tall, it was decided that more, the magic words in gardening, were needed. Fate would bring H. ‘Coppelia’ into the shopping cart while on an offspring visit to Asheville, North Carolina at B.B.Barnes nursery.

July 31, 2009 019 (2)
Next stop, present day. Seeds were purchased and started in the greenhouse/sunroom using the handy dandy heat mat and grow lights. Helenium autumnale ‘Sunshine hybrid’ was said to be: “Scarlet, orange, yellow, gold and mahogany blooms with dark centers. This Helenuium is something special. ” by Thompson and Morgan. Who could resist? Not I said the fly. Not me said the flea.

July 11, 2009 016 (2)
Purported to flower the first year from seed, we can vouch for the veracity of that statement. The plants are juvenile in size, but all the seedlings have flowered, offering an assortment of colorways.

August 21, 2009 new 070 (2)
All of the plants have shown great promise for future years of glorious blooms.

August 20, 2009 028 (2)
A delightful surprise was this solid yellow. Showing the same vigor and floriferousness as the store bought plants, one packet of seeds has provided the longed for *sea of* in the area known as the shed bed.

August 20, 2009 027 (2)
One of the teenagers turned out to be mostly red. This one will be tagged and the seed gathered to be sowed, sown?, this winter.

August 21, 2009 new 080 (2)
Due to a policy of truth in advertising, lest you think all is perfection in the shed bed of the Fairegarden, this warts and all shot will dissuade you of that notion. With the appalling satellite dish in the background just on the other side of the dreadful silver hued chain link fence, yes it is my fence, erected by my dollar, the shed bed is a bit unruly, to put it kindly. The Belamcandas are sporting swollen seed pods that pull the stems earthward, the once named Stipa now known as Nasella tenuissima has straw like dead bits in the majority of its blades and the spent once blue Eryngiums are bronzed in death. It is the tangled mane of the long haired child, uncombable even with a whole bottle of Herbal Essence conditioner. But the dots of Helen brighten the scene considerably, to the eye and to the heart.

Here are some fun facts about Helenium autumnale from our favorite go to source, Mobot, the Missouri Botanical Garden:

Common Name: sneezeweed
Zone: 3 to 8
Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Asteraceae
Missouri Native: Yes
Native Range: North America
Height: 3 to 5 feet
Spread: 2 to 3 feet
Bloom Time: August – October
Bloom Color: Yellow rays and dull yellow center disks
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Medium
General Culture:

Easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun. Prefers rich, moist soils. Intolerant of dry soils. (Frances says: dry soils is a relative term. Ours are very dry during our drought ridden summers and do well.) Avoid overfertilization which may cause plants to grow too tall. Although not required, plants may be cut back in early June (at least six weeks before normal flowering) 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. (Frances says: I don’t do that, but maybe should.)

Noteworthy Characteristics:

This sneezeweed is an erect, clump-forming, Missouri native perennial which occurs in moist soils along streams, ponds or ditches and in spring-fed meadows, prairie and wet open ground throughout most of the State (Steyermark). Typically grows 3-5′ tall on rigid, distinctively winged stems which branch near the top. Features clusters of daisy-like flowers (2″ diameter) with distinctive wedge-shaped, bright yellow rays (three-lobed at the tips) and prominent, dome-like, dull yellow center disks. Flowers appear over a lengthy late summer to autumn (sometimes to first frost) bloom as indicated by species name. Alternate, lance-shaped, dark green leaves (to 6″ long). Powdered disk flowers and leaves of this species have in the past been dried and used as snuff, thus giving rise to the common name of sneezeweed.(Frances says: Now that is interesting. I thought it was called sneezeweed because it bloomed at the same time as the notorious Ragweed and blame was misguided.)


No serious insect or disease problems. Foliage is susceptible to powdery mildew, leaf spot and rust. This species generally requires some staking or other support and will benefit from pinching or July-cutback as detailed above. (Frances says: Or plant it among friendly neighbors that will help hold it erect, like Nasella.)


Borders. Also effective in prairies, meadows, cottage gardens, wild gardens, naturalized areas or in moist soils along bodies of water.
(Frances says: or dry slopes.)

Highly recommended.


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39 Responses to Helen’s Flower

  1. Sylvia (England) says:

    Frances, I don’t have one in my garden (head hung in shame!) I did plant Helenium autumnale ‘Moerheim Beauty’ last year but it didn’t come through the winter. I think it had been in its pot too long! I really must get plants into the ground quicker. I think I may buy some seed next year and hope for a lovely variety like yours.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    Hi Sylvia, thanks for visiting. I am so sorry about your Helenium loss. Maybe seed grown plants will do better for you. I often have losses of store bought things that are planted in peat based mixes. They dry out in our droughty summers and then it is impossible to get water to the roots. Sometimes I tease the roots loose from the mix, when the soil is cool and moist, of the pot to allow for better acclimation to the conditions here. Especially Echinaceas are bad about that. πŸ™‚

  2. Darla says:

    Reminds me of the Blanket Flower. That teenager just had to do something to get attention! At least this teenager got it right!

    How funny you are Darla! Thanks for your insight. I was happy to see a red one, something a little different. Obviously in the throes of teenage angst at your place, or have lived through it. Me too. πŸ™‚

  3. Hi Frances,

    I love Helen’s flower. I don’t grow it (yet) but whenever I see it around I always admire it.

    As ever I’m always knocked out with your photos. I’ve just bought a new camera, trouble is everytime I attempt to read the instructions, bearing in mind there’s a zillion pages I lose the will to live. Eventually I’ll get there.

    Hi Rob, that is the funniest thing ever! I know what you mean, but my will to live increased with finding the owner’s manual online. Not this large wad of paper, but you could see the words pertaining to what you were interested in learning, with hands free to hold the camera. The Helenium is not a splashy starlet, but a supporting cast member that adds just the right zip at a time when things are winding down. πŸ™‚

  4. VP says:

    I’ve a solid yellow Helenium too. Perfect sunshine on a rainy day like today πŸ™‚

    Have a great weekend!

    Thanks VP, same to you! There are several yellow daisy type flowers here, but seeing the solid yellows made me happy inside. πŸ™‚

  5. Frances, I have you set up on readomattic at WordPress on my blog, but I had to come to your site, what a difference in the quality of the pictures.
    It is always lovely when we find a plant named after a loved one, and we can plant it in our garden as a tribute to them. It makes that plant extra special. (Boy, I am using the word plant alot).

    Thanks Deborah, and plant is a great word. HA I don’t use the readers, preferring to get the full experience since bloggers put a lot of work and effort to making the story attractive and compelling. Like the difference in watching a movie on an Ipod or going to the theatre. I know it takes more time, but find it better to not rush some things. πŸ™‚

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    How sweet you have a flower that reminds you of your Momma. I love to incorporate plants into the garden that reminds me of people I love.

    Thanks Lisa, I did call her Momma too. πŸ™‚

  7. Janet says:

    I really like these Helenium that are multi colored like Mardi Gras. I haven’t planted any of the beauties…I wonder why? Not me said the flea?? Are you going through a withdrawal from Kiddie Lit? I usually have Mother Goose floating through my head.

    Hi Janet, they are great additions to grasses and the eryngiums. Kiddie Lit, I love it! All sorts of weird things travel through my head. Last time it was Janis Joplin and Turtle Blues. Nothing if not well rounded! HA

  8. Joy says:

    Frances you have dedicated a post to one of my most favorite flower loves : ) PERFECT !!!
    I am making notes for next year to squeeze a section just for different cultivars of this beauty .. you have given me a few more to add to the collection, thank you girl !!
    Joy πŸ˜‰
    PS .. I have yet to sneeze ? LOL

    HA Joy, that is funny! I always wonder, whoever thought, let’s stick this up our nostril to see what happens? Makes me want to get a tissue. Naivete, I know. The seed packet gave all kinds of different varietions, too much fun. πŸ™‚

  9. tina says:

    I love Helen’s flower and it sure does do well in dry soil. I start all of mine from cuttings when I snip them back in summer, and a friend just brought me some cuttings of the different colored ones. I only have the solid yellowed flowered one. Bought it mail order one year. I did not know it was once used as snuff. I thought the same as you with the ragweed. It is a wonderful flower and your colors are gorgeous. Even nicer it shares a name with your mother.

    Thanks Tina, that is a great idea, root the tops when cutting them back. If only I could succeed with cuttings like you and Dave. πŸ™‚

  10. Gail says:

    Your sneezeweed is as pretty as you described Frances. I think the yellow is lovely, but my eye is drawn to the flashy reds and oranges! I could use more of that in the sunny beds. Love, love, love the long haired child with tangled hair description of the Shed Bed! I am sure my mother despaired of my hair as a child before there were products! Have a sweet weekend~~gail

    Hi Gail, thanks. They are all pretty, but I love the pure yellow. HA about the hair, for me it was Chickenpoet, the thickest head of hair ever, and very sensitive to detangling. The kids still hate the big yellow comb! Yes, I still have it, offspring! HA

  11. Hi Frances, I grew a Helenium for a couple of years, but then it died out. I thought at the time that she was liked Gaillardia and only had a couple of seasons in her. Now, I wonder if I gave her too much water. Anyway, I love yours. So beautiful. Nice attachment to the name too.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, thanks. That is sad, your Helenium died. Mobot said it loved wet, mine is in anything but. It has been two years for the store bought ones. Hope the seedlings show some longevity. πŸ™‚

  12. Dave says:

    I don’t have any here but they definitely are worth planning on for next year. The blooms are great. They remind me of some of the Gaillardias.

    Hi Dave, thanks. The colors are like gaillardia, but the flowers are smaller and more delicate. They germinated easily and bloomed the first year, those are good traits! πŸ™‚

  13. I love Helenium, I have both the Mardi Gras and the native variety. MG blooms earlier and is shorter. Helenium is named after Helen of Troy, as it was her favorite flower. And you know how I’m always envious of all the plants you can grown there in your warmer zone? Please indulge me by letting me say Helenium are showier here–my groupings are lush (tall and wide), even from the first season. Yay! They look really nice next to Mexican hat. πŸ™‚

    You can see photos from last year’s garden at my old blog here: http://blog.mlive.com/fullbloom/2008/09/favorite_fall_bloomers_heleniu.html

    Hi Monica, please, feel free to indulge! It may be that your soil is wetter, but I have hopes these seedlings will increase in size with age. I have some Mexican Hat ordered, I like the idea of putting them in the same bed, thanks! πŸ™‚

  14. Carol says:

    Great post on Helen’s flower Frances… I especially love the yellow flowers… and congratulations on your photo win!

    Hi Carol, thanks for that. This is a fabulous plant. πŸ™‚

  15. Joanne says:

    Such a useful late summer plant I really must get more. Great shots phew nice to know you have some warts but I am afraid this area looks good to my eyes.

    Hi Joanne, thanks, it is a wonderful plant for this time of year. The bed is rather messy, but I like it that way. All my beds are messy. πŸ™‚

  16. Sunita says:

    What a lovely thought, Frances … imagine being reminded of your mother every time you see this flower !
    That teenager is really flamboyant πŸ™‚ Lovely photos, Frances.

    Thanks Sunita. When I discovered the plant and what the name meant, it was a have to have! So happy that it likes it here, wet or not. The teenager is being watched for signs of seeds. It may or may not come true, but if I keep selecting the reds the chances get better. πŸ™‚

  17. Frances — lovely ladies. I’ve always liked these flowers, but don’t have any of them. Great info you provide.

    I visit all these blogs, see all these “must have” plants, than I “get real” about space. IF I only had space, a place, for another pretty face…


    Hi Cameron, thanks so much. They are like elegant ladies with fancy hats. They are quite vertical plants without a large rosette, good neighbors to squeeze in. πŸ™‚

  18. I am dutifully noting all late summer/fall bloomers you mention and I hope my yard will be better for it next year!

    Hi Jill, thanks. I bet your yard does look better with the thought you are putting into the timing of flowering. That always helps to consider when, not just what color or height. πŸ™‚

  19. lynnsgarden says:

    Helenium bloomed in my garden for the first time this year, too Frances. I love their low, compact form and beautiful range of colors. Fun that you started some from seeds! Especially nice though is when a plant conjures up thoughts/feelings of a loved one.

    Hi Lynn, thanks. Finding the seeds was great. I was thinking how expensive it would be to fill in the shed bed with them, and they didn’t seem to look like division was the answer. The name is a sweet bonus. πŸ™‚

  20. Racquel says:

    I was ogling the ‘Mardi Gras’ in Bluestone’s Catalog this past spring. Now that I see how easy & pretty yours our doing, this might have to be added to the wishlist. πŸ™‚

    Hi Racquel, Mardi Gras has a fantastic range of colors, it would be a great addition to your lovely garden. πŸ™‚

  21. Lythrum says:

    Those are really interesting. I might have to look into them. πŸ˜‰

    Theses are great plants, Lythrum. Blooming at sort of a down time in many gardens. Easy to grow. πŸ™‚

  22. dirtynailz says:

    I LOVE my helenium Moerheim Beauty. It grows all by itself in a prominent spot in my lawn, and blooms from early summer right into Fall. I do deadhead it when I remember, but other than that it is a beautiful and carefree plant. I started mine from seeds my aunt sent me many years ago, and I think it should be in every garden!
    Here’s an interesting website dedicated to helenium. Who knew there were that many cultivars?

    Thanks for the link. I would love to add Moerheim Beauty, I like the reds. How cool yours came from your aunt, too. πŸ™‚

  23. Susie says:

    I love the combo of the Eryngiums with the Helenium peeking through in the background. You do take the most fabulous photos.

    Thanks Susie, for those kind words. I like that combo too. The eryngiums go first, then the belamcandas, overlapping are the heleniums, with the stipa going 24/7. It is one of my favorite beds.

  24. Catherine says:

    I think I need to try some of these next year. I loved ‘Coppelia’. I wonder if I might find any at the nursery still…

    Hi Catherine, thanks for visiting. I bought Coppelia late in the year last year, marked down even, so you might get lucky. πŸ™‚

  25. autumnbelle says:

    I like the choice colours you have for the heleniums. Helenium – Helen’s flower. Usually a person is named after a flower but this flower is named after a person. Great! Have a lovely weekend, Frances.

    Thanks Autumnbelle, I hope your weekend was great as well. The Heleniums are a bright splash in the sea of green right now, quite a welcome sight. πŸ˜‰

  26. Rose says:

    Frances, this is a plant I’ve been looking at for some time and trying to find a place for in my garden; thanks for the recommendation! What really clinched it, though, was that it blooms in late summer. I could definitely use some color right now.
    Thanks, too, for being brave enough to show the “warts and all” photo. My front garden is looking much the same way at the moment now that the coneflowers are fading. I think I may take the pruners to it…I spent many hours years ago combing out the thick unruly tresses of older Daughter after each shampoo. For us, it was Johnson’s “No More Tangles.” She still remembers watching “Hunter” on Saturday nights while I combed through all the tangles:) But she does have beautiful, thick hair today!

    Hi Rose, thanks for your thoughts. The time of bloom is crucial for many of these plants. Anything that blooms when little else is going on is worth giving a try, IMHO. The combing of Chickenpoet’s long hair was dreaded by everyone in the household. She was very loud about how much it hurt, no matter how carefully I combed. She was like that. HA She still has very long hair and I don’t think she even tries to comb it, what a mane! It is beautiful. πŸ™‚

  27. Lovely photos, Frances. I only have Moerheim beauty at the moment, but looking at all the different colours you have has made me want more. I love the way that the centre of the flower changes as the blooms age.

    Hi Happy, thanks. The mixed packet of seeds gave us lots of variety. I am wondering if the saved seeds from these will be different as well. Hope so! πŸ™‚

  28. Patsi says:

    Love the sneezeweed(like the name Helen’s flower better). Got one for my new sun bed this year….very happy with it.
    You mention the ‘shed area’…when I’m back in the shed area I try not to look at our neighbors ivy growing into the yard,weeds and all the bags etc my husband has stored there plus all the plastic containers…scary.

    Hi Patsi, thanks. I think sneezeweed might keep people from trying this wonderful plant. Hope this post sets them straight! Sounds like you shed area needs some tender loving care! A blank canvas for design. πŸ™‚

  29. Sue says:

    She’s one of my favorites, too. I have several kinds, and after reading this post, I may have to find that Mardi Gras. Thanks for showing your unruly area. Helen blooms do draw the eye away from other things. Plus, she makes the rest look like fillers for her bouquet.

    Hi Sue, thanks. So nice to see you. Mardi Gras is wonderful, although I have had no luck getting its seeds to germinate. The warts and all is more like what the whole garden looks like right now. Messier than I like, but I am trying to learn to love it that way. πŸ™‚

  30. Sweet Bay says:

    I am always surprised at how beautiful the cultivars of Sneezeweed are, after seeing the short scrubby Sneezeweed in the neighbor’s pasture. These truly are like a flower party!

    Thanks Sweet Bay. I’ll bet the wildling Heleniums could look good with the right companions, how fortunate tot have them right there for the seed gathering if you wish. πŸ™‚

  31. Frances, Even though there’s not quite room for it, I have Helen’s flower in my Microgarden, too. You can guess why. It’s in a fairly dry spot in sandy soil and semi-shade, yet it has been a reliable late-summer bloomer for many years. Some years (such as this year) I do what you suggested and pinch it back in spring to keep it compact. A great flower. Mine is yellow, but I love all the bicolours. Great photos, as always.

    Hi Helen, thanks. I was thinking of you too when writing this post, wondering if you grew this flower. Glad to hear you are. πŸ™‚

  32. TurboLotte says:

    Thanks for the shout-out to my husband!! He finally gave in!! The orange cat is coming tomorrow!

    Hi Charlotte, Hooray for George! πŸ™‚

  33. easygardener says:

    They are delightful. I love the way each one looks slightly different colour wise. If some are drought tolerant I might give them a go – my soil is very light and some perennials go all droopy!

    Hi EG, thanks. I was surprised that Mobot said they need wet, we are anything but wet here in the summer. They are quite drought tolerant plants. Glad yours are doing well! πŸ™‚

  34. Beckie says:

    Frances, lovely flower and I know it(they) must bring you much joy!

    Hi Beckie, thanks. The time of year they bloom, the colors and the name all make this one of my favorite flowers. πŸ™‚

  35. Teresa says:

    Frances, The heleniums are a pretty flower. My grandmother’s name is also Helen and I think she would have liked knowing there was a plant bearing her name. I will look for some of these. thanks for a very interesting post.
    Also I think those Eryngiums are a very different looking flower. Another one I will look for. Thanks again.

    Hi Teresa, thanks. Your grandmother would surely be pleased if you grew these happy and cheering flowers in memory of her. They were easy and cheap from seeds obtained from Thompson and Morgan online, or anywhere you can find some. I love the Eryngiums too, they were harder to get going, but now self seed nicely in the same area. πŸ™‚

  36. Tatyana says:

    Hi Frances! I don’t have it in my garden. Your story and description make me think about adding it to my perennial bed. Coppelia looks especially good for me, since the yellow is not my favorite color. Blooms in Aug.-October? Sold!

    Hi Tatyana, thanks. Coppelia is a wonderful color, but not as vigorous as Mardi Gras or the new baby seedlings. Maybe different species genetic material in there. I think there is a red Moeheim that has been around for awhile that might be easier to find and grow where you live. Good luck! πŸ™‚

  37. jo says:

    Wow, no wonder you have so many comments. Fantastic photos and unusual blogging material. I am glad you are sharing.
    I wonder if I said your blog was para normal would that be correct. Would it take on a negative connotation. If it does I won’t say it. I’ll just say it is fascinating. Particularly I like the first posted pictures at the top. I am curious why is it called faere?
    [from arootdiggerssunnyside]

    Hi Jo, thanks and welcome. I combined your two comments. Paranormal was the jumping off point for this post, nothing negative about it in my book. Old time Xfiles fanatic here. The name of my blog is the name of a business I had several years ago, landscaping and crafts. The name was given to me by a close friend, using my first and last initials. Lucky me to marry a man with the last name beginning with G, like garden. Then to find an F word. Faire as in renaissance fit the attitude so I went with it. I like people pronounce it as they wish. πŸ™‚

  38. Pingback: July Wildflowers-Return Of The Natives « Fairegarden

  39. If you’d like to see what one native Texan species is like, you can take a look at Helenium quadridentatum:


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