Complete Guide To Sneezeweed (Helenium Autumnale)

For a showy late-blooming native flower that bridges the gap from Summer to Fall, look no further than Sneezeweed. This lovely plant makes a gorgeous yellow display that blooms after the main summer flowers have finished, and before to coinciding with Asters. I’ve successfully grown this plant for several years and will share what I’ve learned with you.

In this article:

What is Sneezeweed

Sneezeweed is a perennial wildflower native to most of North America. Scientifically known as Helenium autumnale, it will grow 3-5′ tall in full sun and moist soil. Blooming up to two month in late Summer to early Fall, it’s showy yellow daisy-like flowers attract numerous bees and butterflies making it valuable to wildlife. [1][2][3]

Despite it’s common name, Sneezeweed won’t actually cause you to sneeze! The flowers are not wind pollinated, thus it won’t cause allergies! The pollen is transported by bees and butterflies.

It blooms the same time as ragweed, which is allergenic while Sneezeweed is not. However the conspicuous flowers of Sneezeweed are much more noticeable, which caused many people to blame it for their allergies.

The true origin of the name Sneezeweed

Most people and references believe that the name Sneezeweed refers to early settlers and pioneers believing that the flowers would cause allergic reactions. However, there was a Native American medicinal use of this plant – namely the dried disc florets would be crushed into a powder then used as a snuff, to induce sneezing! Old medical journals also reported the same use, most likely learned from the Native Americans. [2][4][5]

So, the name ‘Sneezeweed’ makes complete sense. It is from using dried flowers as a snuff, and not from pollen! Besides, the flowers aren’t even wind pollinated!

Now, the vast majority (if not all) of the plant is acrid and toxic. [2] So I don’t recommend anyone snorting or ingesting any part of this plant as it could be hazardous. But I thought that learning the true origin of the name was too cool not to share.

Native Range of Sneezeweed

Sneezeweed is native to most of North America. Covering 46 of the lower 48 United States as well as most of Canada make Sneezeweed one of the most widespread native flowers.

Click on image to enlarge. Source [1]

Sneezeweed Reference Table

Scientific NameHelenium autumnale
Common Name(s)Sneezeweed, Sneezewort, Bitterweed
Native Range, USDA ZoneNorth America, USDA Hardiness zone 3-8
Bloom TimeLate Summer to Fall
Bloom Duration, Color8 weeks, Yellow
Height3-5′ (90-150 cm)
Spacing / Spread18-24″ (45-60 cm)
Light RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil TypesSandy loam to clay
MoistureWet to medium moisture
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, wasps, butterflies, and birds / Hosts Silvery Checkerspot
Sources [1][2][3][6][7]

What are the Benefits of Sneezeweed


Sneezeweed is a prolific bloomer! It makes extraordinary displays of yellow conical blooms with showy yellow petals. Several plants clustered together can create almost a sheer wall of yellow.

Long bloom time

Blooming for up to two months, Sneezeweed is a long-blooming perennial. While some perennials are only showy for a week or two, Sneezeweed has always given a super-bloom of at least four weeks in my experience, with sporadic blooms up to two months.

Blooms when nobody else is

It’s late August to September bloom time provides color during a time when not too much else is blooming. This also makes Sneezeweed a valuable source of nectar and pollen.


Sneezeweed attracts over twenty species of bees as well as several butterflies and other pollinators such as pollinating flies. It is truly a valuable plant for bees. [7][8]

Sneezeweed with what appears to be a honeybee flying above

Deer resistant

The foliage of Sneezeweed is toxic and reported to taste bitter. This makes it avoided by deer and rabbits. So, one can grow a patch of Sneezeweed without worry of it being eaten by deer or other critters. [2][3]

Grow and Care for Sneezeweed

Sunlight Requirements

Sneezeweed will prefer, grow the largest, and be the showiest in full sun, which is six hours of direct sunlight per day. It can tolerate partial sun, which is at least four hours of sunlight per day, but the plant will not produce as many blooms and be more likely to flop over as it will become leggy ‘reaching’ for the sun. [2][3]

Soil Requirements

For soil, Sneezeweed likes soil that can drain such as sandy loam, silt, or loam and is tolerant of clay. Being high in organic matter is a plus, but not requirement (I grew my first plants in soil that was former turf grass). [3]

Moisture Requirements

Unlike many other plants, Sneezeweed grows well in wet to moist soil. It grows well in rain gardens, along pond or stream banks, and low spots. It likes moist or wet soil, but doesn’t tolerate constantly wet soil. [2]

Sneezeweed will not grow well in dry soils, and is not drought tolerant. If you plant it in an area that dries out (full sun slopes, high spots) it will not do well and may die. [3]


There are two primary maintenance activities for Sneezeweed – it may need to be cut back before flowering to avoid flopping, and it can self-seed in mulched flower beds.

Sneezeweed flopping over

Sneezeweed has a tendency to flop over when grown in isolation or in the open without surrounding plants such as formal, mulched flowerbeds. If you wish to grow it in these conditions you should plant on giving it the Chelsea Chop in early June, or roughly six weeks before flowering. If you are unfamiliar, I wrote a detailed guide on how and when to perform the Chelsea Chop here.

A stalk of Sneezeweed that got too top-heavy and flopped over. This should have been trimmed back!

One additional consideration when choosing a location for Sneezeweed has to do with how exposed it is to the sun. If it gets sun from three directions (East, South, West) then it should generally grow straight up. However, if it only gets sunlight from one direction, it may develop a tendency to lean in that direction, almost like it is ‘reaching’ for more sunlight.

Self-seeding and Sneezeweed

Sneezeweed flowers will produce thousands of seeds. And, those seeds often fall near the mother plant. So, if in a formal flowerbed, consider deadheading the seed heads before they start falling!


While deadheading or pinching off spent blooms will cause the plant to generate new flowers, thus prolonging the blooming period, this isn’t always practical. There are generally over 100 blooms on a single plant, and while you can cut off entire sections of flowerheads to encourage more, you will lose some of it’s beauty as it’s seed heads form.


Sneezeweed should not require any supplemental fertilizer. One can add a handful of compost when transplanting seedings, but it is not necessary. If the soil is too rich, or very high in nitrogen, it will likely become even taller and be more likely to flop or lean over.

Natural habitat of Sneezeweed

Sneezeweed naturally grows in low spots, near water such as creeks/ponds, and adjacent to wetlands.

A patch of Sneezeweed growing wild at a local State Park next to a lake. These plants are approximately 3-4′ tall.

Propagation of Sneezeweed

One can propagate Sneezeweed from cuttings, division, and from seed. Division is the quickest manner to propagate Sneezeweed, and can be done every 3-5 years.

Growing Sneezeweed from cuttings

To grow Sneezeweed from cuttings, cut shoots 3-6″ long from soft green stems. Remove lower leaves, then dip in water and rooting hormone. Place the shoot in a pot with moist sand for 2-3 weeks. [9][10]

After several weeks, check to see if roots have formed. If so, transfer the shoot to a larger container with potting soil. After several more weeks the plant can be transplanted to it’s final location.

Propagating Sneezeweed from division

Sneezeweed can be divided every 3-5 years, and should be to keep the plant looking nice. To divide Sneezeweed, simply dig the plant up in early Spring. Then, use a pruning saw or gardening knife to cut the root mass in half. Plant the two halves immediately to the same depth they were at, and water them. [9]

If you wish to have more detail on plant division, you can see our step by step guide to divide perennials, which is applicable to Sneezeweed. I strongly suggest doing this operation in Spring when the plant is just emerging from dormancy, as the cooler temperatures often mean there is little to no heat-stress on the plant, and the soil generally stays moist.

How to Grow Sneezeweed from Seed

Officially, Sneezeweed doesn’t require any pretreatment. It does however need exposure to sunlight to break dormancy. So, It is one of the easier Natives to grow from seed in that you can just scatter the seed on moist potting soil in a container or disturbed area in Spring. Following this procedure, you can expect at 20% germination rate after a couple of weeks in warm temperatures. [11]

Steps to germinate Sneezeweed seed

  1. Fill a container with moist potting soil
  2. Scatter 10-20 seeds on the soil surface. Press the seeds into the soil, but don’t cover them.
  3. Place the container in a location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade
  4. Water the container in the morning either by watering from the bottom, or by using a spray bottle to mist the seeds.
  5. Germination should occur in 2-3 weeks

If you wish to achieve a higher germination rate, controlled studies have found two weeks of cold-moist stratification at 5 degrees C will yield germination rates that approach 100%. [12]

Sneezeweed seedling just after germination.

My advice is that if you decide to grow this plant and it is already summer, use a paper towel and baggy to cold stratify the seeds for 1-2 weeks in the fridge before sowing. That way you can expect a high germination rate relatively quickly. See our guide for cold stratification in the fridge. Also, in warmer temperatures, keep your container in a place that gets morning sun and afternoon shade

A young Sneezeweed plant I grew from seed.

But if you are reading this article and it is before Spring, then you can simply winter sow the seed. It is very easy to do this along with any other seeds you intend to Winter Sow, and you are pretty much guaranteed to get high germination rates with minimal effort. Just sow on the surface of the soil. You can read our guides on winter sowing for more detailed information.


Although it may be possible to get some blooms the first year from seed, it is more likely that you will get blooms the second year.

Second year plants, already full sized.

Identification and Characteristics of Sneezeweed


Easily reaching 3-5′ tall in full sun, the stalk of Sneezeweed is green that are winged or angular. They will branch in the upper third of the stalk. [2]


Sneezeweed leaves are alternate on the stalk and 4-6″ long by 1-2″ wide. They are generally without stems (sessile) and lanceolate to elliptic oblong in shape with serrated margins. [2]

Leaves and stalk of Sneezeweed


Numerous flowerheads will terminate at the end of stems. They are yellow to gold in color and 1.5-2″ diameter. The overall shape of the flower resembles a badminton birdie, with a spherical to globoid cone and yellow ray florets. The rays have a triangular shape with several lobes at the end. [2]

Blooming will last from 1-2 months. Approximately four weeks after blooming, seed heads will replace the flowers. The seeds are attached to the cone and have tufts of hair which help them to be distributed slightly by the wind.

Sneezeweed seed heads in Autumn

How to save seed from Sneezeweed

Approximately one month after the flowers have bloomed, you can collect seed heads from Sneezeweed. Every flower will change into a dark brown spherical seed head. Collect these by cutting below a cluster of seed heads, and carefully place it into a paper bag, large bowl, or container.

Leave the seed heads in their container somewhere cool and dry for approximately one week to ensure the seed heads are fully dry. The seed is attached to the center cone, and will have a small feather on it’s tail. In fact, when you view the dark brown seed heads, all you will see is the dark brown feather. And furthermore, the feather is larger than the tiny seed itself!

But to separate the seed, you simply pinch the feathers and release them into a paper bag or envelope. If you don’t mind the feather, then it is one of the easiest and cleanest flowers to save seed from.


The root system of Sneezeweed is fibrous and shallow. It is a clump-forming plant, with the base expanding each year.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Sneezeweed


Charles Robertson in his huge 1929 survey documented 25 species of bee visiting Sneezeweed. Included in this were 15 species of long-tongue bees such as Bumblebees, mason bees, and leafcutters. Several short-tongue bees, solitary bees, and sawflies, and several butterflies and skippers. [7][8]

Several aphids and beetles also suck nectar from the flowers and stems. And caterpillars of several moths feed on the pith of stems. Also, Sneezeweed is a host plant for larvae of the Silvery Checkerspot, Chlosyne nycteis. [6]


The aphids and other stem-damaging insects don’t kill the plant, and generally act as food sources for the greater food web. Because of no pest control should be necessary on Sneezeweed.

Deer and Rabbits

The foliage of Sneezeweed is toxic to deer and rabbits, and in general tastes bitter to all herbivores. Thus is definitely a deer resistant plant. [2][13] For what it’s worth, I’ve never noticed damage on any of my plants.


Sneezeweed is generally disease free, although certain fungi like powdery mildew effect the leaves. Powdery Mildew will not be fatal to the plant, and only effect it cosmetically.

Where you can buy Sneezeweed

The straight species of Sneezeweed is not typically sold in nurseries. Many cultivars of Sneezeweed do exist, but those don’t always attract as many pollinators. However, the straight species can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

Varieties of Sneezeweed

While many varieties of Sneezeweed exist, I must inform you that they may not attract many pollinators. For instance Dr. Annie White of the University of Vermont [14] surveyed both the straight species and the variety Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’. She observed that the straight species had 8X more pollinator visits than the cultivar! So, if you are trying to support your local wildlife, the straight species is always better!

Related – read more on why Straight Species are almost always better for pollinators rather than cultivars.

One other point to note, since the common name, ‘Sneezeweed’ would lead many people to conclude that it will aggravate allergies, the cultivars will primarily refer to the genus, Helenium. It is easier to sell a plant named Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ to someone with allergies rather than a flower called Sneezeweed, no matter how pretty it is and even though Sneezeweed will not aggravate someone’s allergies!

Nonetheless, due to it’s showiness and beauty, many cultivars and selections of Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale sp.) have been developed. Many are bred or cloned for their size, color, or bloom period. Below is a list of various cultivars of Sneezeweed that is available. [3]

  • ‘Sunburst’ – yellow flowers, but a short (15″) and bushy version
  • ‘Sombrero’ – short, bushy, yellow flowers
  • ‘Butterpat’ – yellow, but only 3′ tall
  • ‘Bruno’ – Red petals
  • ‘Chipperfield Orange’ – Orange-yellow petals
  • ‘Coppelia’ – orange-yellow petals
  • ‘Crimson Beauty’ – red petals and yellow centers
  • ‘Moerheim Beauty’ – red to yellow petals
  • ‘Wyndley’ – yellow-orange petals, short
Helenium ‘Sombrero’ I happened to see at a local garden

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Uses of Sneezeweed

Garden Uses

For garden uses, Sneezeweed is an excellent choice for a rain garden, near water, in low spots, and in wet or moist meadows. It can be used in drier areas if you are prepared to provide supplemental water when needed, or if you plant the area thick enough so that the vegetation can help keep the soil a bit cooler. [3]

Sneezeweed with Blue Vervain in the background

I grow mine in a dry area, but it is near the bottom of a slope, which generally retains moisture better than other areas. Additionally it is densely planted, which helps the soil stay cool.

Companion Plants

For companion plants, Sneezeweed will grow well with any other moisture loving flower. Below is a list of companion plants that will grow well near Sneezeweed:

Sneezeweed, Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia fulgida, Rattlesnake Master, and Penstemon

Sneezeweed Toxicity

All parts of the Sneezeweed plant are toxic to humans, livestock, dogs, and cats. [2][13][15][16] The glycoside, dugaldin is present in all parts of the plant. And, this toxicity is retained even after the plant has dried. No part of this plant should be consumed by human nor animal.[17] Please remember this when reading the historical medicinal and Native American uses. Also, some people are sensitive to touching Sneezeweed.

Native American Uses of Sneezeweed

There are twelve uses of Sneezeweed documented for five different tribes.[2][18] Some of the uses by the Cherokee and other tribes include an infusion of roots as a gynecological aid after childbirth, dried leaves crushed into a powder to induce sneezing, and an infusion of stems to wash for fever.

A compound of dried flowers was also used as a pain reliever by the Menominee. The disc florets were also used to clear a stuffy head cold.

Medicinal Uses

Listed as a medicinal herb as far back as the 1800’s, Sneezeweed was known to be used as a sneeze-inducer when the dried flowers were crushed into a powder. It is very likely that the true origin of the name Sneezeweed has to do with this Native American (and then pioneer) medicinal use. [4][5]

Final Thoughts

Sneezeweed is one of the more showy yellow flowers that blooms in late Summer to early Fall. While it is right at home in a wet meadow, it can easily be adapted to a formal, mulched flower bed as long as one performs the Chelsea Chop by mid-June to prevent the plant from flopping over.

The interest that this plant brings due to wildlife, showiness, and curb appeal make it a worthwhile addition to any garden. The fact that it can grow to full size by it’s second year further add to its value, as hundreds of plants can be started from just a couple bucks with a pack of seeds.

Find more native plants here


[1] – USDA NRCS. ‘Helenium Autumnale‘. Accessed 26JAN2023

[2] – Kindscher, Kelly. Medicinal wild plants of the prairie: An ethnobotanical guide. University Press of Kansas, 1992.

[3] – Miles, Bebe. Wildflower Perennials for Your Garden: A Detailed Guide to Years of Bloom from America’s Native Heritage. Mechanicsburg, PA : Stackpole Books, 1996. Accessed 27JAN2023

[4] – Dunglison, Robley. Medical Lexicon: A Dictionary of Medical Science… with French and Other Synonymes. Blanchard & Lea, 1860. Accessed 26JAN2023

[5] – Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel. Medical Flora: Or, Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America. Containing a Selection of Above 100 Figures and Descriptions of Medical Plants, with Their Names, Qualities, Properties, History, &c.: and Notes Or Remarks on Nearly 500 Equivalent Substitutes… Vol. 1. Atkinson & Alexander, 1828. Accessed 27JAN2023

[6] – Iftner, David C., John A. Shuey, and John V. Calhoun. Butterflies and skippers of Ohio. College of Biological Sciences, Ohio State University, 1992.

[7] – Robertson, Charles. “Flowers and insects; lists of visitors of four hundred and fifty-three flowers.” (1928).

[8] – The Xerces Society, 100 Plants To Feed The Bees. Xerces Society, Storey Publishing, LLC, 2016. ISBN: 978654321. pp239

[9] – Reese, R. Neil. “Helenium autumnale.” South Dakota State University. (2016). Accessed 27JAN2023

[10] – Roest, S., and G. S. Bokelmann. “Vegetative propagation of Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium in vitro.” Scientia Horticulturae 1.1 (1973): 120-122.

[11] – BASKIN, CAROL C., JERRY M. BASKIN, and MARY A. LECK. “Afterripening pattern during cold stratification of achenes of ten perennial Asteraceae from eastern North America, and evolutionary implication.” Plant Species Biology 8.1 (1993): 61-65. Accessed 27JAN2023

[12] – Mitchell, Esther. “Germination of seeds of plants native to Dutchess County, New York.” Botanical Gazette 81.1 (1926): 108-112.

[13] – Pettit, George R., et al. “Antineoplastic agents. 34. Helenium autumnale.” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 17.9 (1974): 1013-1016. Accessed 27JAN2023

[14] – White, Annie S. From nursery to nature: evaluating native herbaceous flowering plants versus native cultivars for pollinator habitat restoration. The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College, 2016.

[15] – Allred, Kelly Wayne, and Timothy E. Roth. An Annotated checklist of Poisonous or Injurious range Plants of new Mexico. New Mexico State University, Cooperative Extension Service, 1991.

[16] – Lamson, PAUL DUDLEY. “On the Pharmacological Action of Helenin, the Active Principle of Helenium Autumnale.” J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther 4 (1913): 471-489.

[17] – James, Wilma Roberts, and Arla Lippsmeyer. “Know your poisonous plants.” (1973). page 67.

[18] – ‘Helenium Autumnale‘. North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 26JAN2023.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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