Purplehead Sneezeweed

Biological Name:

Helenium autumnale (Purplehead-Sneezeweed)

Natural Habitat:

Purplehead-Sneezeweed: This plant is native to North America and grows in a variety of habitats, including fields, meadows, and along roadsides.


Purplehead-Sneezeweed is a summer annual weed that is native to the Americas. It has hairy stems and leaves and the leaves are lance-shaped with toothed edges. The flowers are small and yellow and they are followed by hairy seed pods.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is sneezeweed good for?
A: Medicinal use of Sneezeweed: The dried nearly mature flower heads are used in a powdered form as a snuff to treat colds and headaches. When made into a tea they are used in the treatment of intestinal worms. The powdered leaves are sternutatory. An infusion of the leaves is laxative and alterative.

Q: When should I start my Sneezeweed seeds?
A: Sow indoors 8-10 weeks before planting out in early spring when the soil is cool and light frost is still possible. Or direct sow in early spring or early autumn. The ideal temperature for germination is 21°C (70°F). Seeds will sprout in 7-10 days.

Q: What is another name for sneezeweed?
A: Helenium autumnale (Common sneezeweed) | Native Plants of North America.

Q: Do heleniums need deadheading?
A: Caring for heleniums Deadhead blooms to keep the flowers coming, or cut flowers to bring indoors. Clumps can become a bit congested after a few years, so will need dividing in autumn or spring. Taller varieties are worth staking early in the season.

Q: Is sneezeweed invasive?
A: This species does not appear on any state or national invasive species lists.

Q: How toxic is sneezeweed to livestock?
A: An animal may die if it eats small quantities of sneezeweed over a long period. Eating about 1 kg of green sneezeweed leaves daily for 10 days may poison sheep. Some animals die within a few days after first signs appear. Others that develop a chronic form of poisoning may live for 2 to 3 weeks.

Q: How do you get rid of sneezeweed?
A: Bitter sneezeweed can be controlled with herbicides. Mowing will reduce seed production but generally is not effective in killing this plant. Hand weeding is effective to remove small infestations. Consult your local Cooperative Extension Service personnel for herbicidal control in your area.

Q: Do helenium come back every year?
A: Heleniums die back over winter, so cut them back after flowering.

Q: When should I cut back helenium?
A: Heleniums generally need staking to keep them upright, but to avoid this you can give them the ‘Chelsea chop’, in May, or cut them back to 30cm (12in) in mid-July. This delays flowering slightly but keeps plants more compact so you can enjoy the flowers on neat, unstaked plants.

Q: Is sneezeweed an annual or perennial?
A: Common Sneezeweed, False Sunflower, Helen’s Flower, Yellow Star (Helenium) Native to North America and Central America, Helenium is a great perennial for the late-season garden as it provides weeks of splashes of color, from early summer to early fall, when many other perennials are starting to fade.

Q: Should I cut back sneezeweed?
A: Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) Doesn’t finish blooming until mid-fall. The foliage can be cut back and removed when it’s done blooming.

Q: How do you winterize sneezeweed?
A: 6 Spread a 6-inch layer of hay over sneezeweed plants just after the first frost of winter. This will insulate the soil and prevent continual freezing and thawing cycles, which can damage the plant. Remove the hay in early spring to allow growth to resume.

Q: Is sneezeweed drought tolerant?
A: This species prefers loamy or silty soils that are high in organic matter. Plants thrive in wet or evenly moist soil but will tolerate a bit of drought after establishment.

Q: Is sneezeweed Hardy?
A: Culture: Frost hardy, they prefer full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun), well, drained soil and regular water. Propagate from seed or by division in early spring. Heleniums are hardy in zones 3-9.

Q: Do you cut back pulmonaria for winter?
A: When winter temperatures arrive and plant foliage has started to die back, the leaves of the plant should be removed using a pair of sharp gardening shears.

Q: Does a hardy annual come back every year?
A: The definition of a hardy annual is simple enough. It’s a plant that goes through its entire life cycle in one season and which can be sown outside in the open garden in spring where it is to flower. In many areas this carries with it the implication that it can happily survive the spring frosts as a seedling.

Q: Is sneezeweed poisonous to humans?
A: Common sneezeweed leaves, flowers, and seeds are poisonous to humans, if eaten in large quantities, causing gastric and intestinal irritation, which can become fatal. The plants also contain sesquiterpene lactones, which may cause a skin rash in some people.

Q: Is sneezeweed edible?
A: There are no edible uses listed for Helenium autumnale.

Q: Why is it called sneezeweed?
A: As the species name implies, Sneezeweed flowers in late summer or fall. The common name is based on the former use of its dried leaves in making snuff, inhaled to cause sneezing that would supposedly rid the body of evil spirits.

About the author

Samuel is a gardening professional and enthusiast who has spent over 20 years advising homeowners and farm owners on weed identification, prevention and removal. He has an undergraduate degree in plant and soil science from Michigan State University.