HELENIUM (Helen’s flower) – Sneezeweed
Helenium is a perennial from the Americas brought to Europe in the 18th century. It was named for Helen of Troy.
Helenium El Dorado has stems that are tall & strong, leaves that are lance-shaped, & GOLDEN YELLOW flowers with MAHOGANY centres. A hardy plant, largely free from pests & diseases, it prefers rich, moist soil & plenty of sunshine. It will reach 3 ft / 90cm in height & may need staking. Do not allow the soil to dry out.
The plant may flower as early as June and carry on blooming until early November. Pinch out growing tips in May for a bushier plant. Deadhead flowers when they have gone over. Divide every 3 years.
‘The entire plant is poisonous, not good if you have inquisitive pets or young children.’
Lee Ann Stark / Helenium, Nothing to Sneeze At / Dave’s Garden
There are many Helenium cultivars, some known as ‘sneezeweed’, based on the former use of their dried leaves in making snuff. It was inhaled to cause sneezing that would supposedly rid the body of evil spirits.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helenium
“The origin of the name Sneezeweed is uncertain, but it appears that Native American medicine men would grind up the plant, blow it in the faces of individuals thought to be possessed (by devils or diseases), inducing sneezing that was believed to expel the demon or sickness. European settlers saw how it was used among native peoples & immediately picked up on it as a substitute for snuff. “Paghat’s Garden http://www.paghat.com/helenium.html
In the Victorian Language of Flowers, Helenium’s identity was given as ‘tears’.
Helenium ‘El Dorado’ is a magnet for pollinators. Honeybees and Bumblebees use the central mound of each flower as a landing pad. When young & fresh, the mound is a deep MAHOGANY with what appear to be tiny jewels around the base. As these tiny floral ‘jewels’ are pollinated, the mound becomes a globe of soft golden fluff.
Our first Helenium was Sahin’s Early Flowerer, from Camden Garden Centre. It grew on the earthwork for a season. The following spring new growth came through, struggled for a time, and gave up. Squirrels had, we found, taken to sitting on the emerging Heleniums to bask in the sunshine. Difficult to grow with a squirrel sitting on you.
In 2015 we ordered two Heleniums from SpecialPerennials: ‘Ruby Charm’ (red) and ‘El Dorado’ (yellow). El Dorado had its first visitors on the 10th of August.
After a long, glorious display its tall stems were cut back. The photo at right shows the extent of its new growth in February 2016, with squirrel protection.
SpecialPerennials, based in Cheshire, is a small specialist nursery run by Janet & Martin Blow. They have been growing plants for nature-friendly gardens since 2006, & Martin holds the National Collection of Heleniums.
We were fortunate to get our lovely plants from them while they were still doing mail order. They now sell their plants only from plant fairs, mostly in the Midlands & North West of England. Their website is worth a look, especially regarding the care of Heleniums. http://www.specialperennials.com/index.htm
Helenium El Dorado is our most successful plant for pollinators. The original plant from Cheshire has now been divided twice & we have three times the flowers. El Dorado has endured winters that have finished off some of our other plants. Given the best sunny spot facing south, planted firstly in the ground & currently in 3 deep containers which receive regular watering in hot weather, this plant when in flower must be known to all the local pollinators as well as honeybees from the Plimsoll Road beekeepers’ hive.
Helenium El Dorado had a good year, though mice brought down several of its stems in spring by nibbling away at ground level. Must look into splitting it.
Ruby Charm never reappeared in spring. Because of changes to the garden its pot had to be moved, & its new, less sunny position kept it from producing its luscious red colour. The wet winter weather plus squirrels/mice digging in its pot could have finished it off. Sic transit gloria.
El Dorado 2019
Helenium El Dorado now lives in a stylish black Ryman office paperbin, circa 1995, one of three that have proved useful as containers for plants or, upside down, as stands for other containers. Holes were drilled in the bottom for drainage.
El Dorado 2020
The plant has been split. It now lives in two deep containers & is keen to get on with its fifth season. Green leaves can be seen at ground level today, 5th of February.
In the midst of lockdown, when we were unable to get out to a garden centre, El Dorado carried on as normal. A coating of whitefly on nearby wildflowers, the powdery mildew appearing on leaves of some other plants – not a problem for this one.
August 12th: Another season of dazzling yellow daisies draws to a close. Honeybees from the local beekeeper’s hives will have been among El Dorado’s many pollinators. There remain a number of buds, & flowers about to open, but these will be its last for 2020.