Red helenium flowers

Didn’t Do My Homework: Heleniums

Last year I bought a couple of helenium plants because I wanted to have as many late-season flowers as possible. (I’m always keen to prolong summer and keep the bees fed too.)

One plant was put into a border straight away, while the other has been in a large pot until recently. It is now in my ‘hot’ border. Both plants have been kept well-watered through the dry summer and are growing happily.

But that may be more by luck than any gardening skill on my part. Normally I make a point of checking the needs of any new plant on Google – sometimes even before I buy it. (I’m at my most impulsive in garden centres!) Not this time…I’ve only just discovered that heleniums like a much wetter soil than I’d thought. Luckily, it’s raining at the moment, so the plants are happy for now.

Soon, though, I will have to move the plants because they’re in the driest part of the garden and probably won’t survive there long. Later this year I want to build a bog garden and now this is making me think of having two ‘bog’ areas. One would be drier than the other, i.e. damp rather than truly boggy. Hopefully this would make it possible for me to give a good home to plants with a range of moisture needs. Will it work? I guess we’ll find out next year!

Incidentally, when I did get round to Googling heleniums, I discovered two facts that (together) intrigued me: that the common name ‘sneezeweed’ was given to the plant because the leaves used to be made into snuff and that all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. Makes me wonder if anyone was ever poisoned with the snuff – maybe it’s better to just enjoy heleniums in our gardens and let them keep their leaves!

Yellow helenium flowers
These yellow helenium flowers look like little pom-poms!

18 thoughts on “Didn’t Do My Homework: Heleniums

  1. Wow – now you are into poisonous plants – impressed Ann! HaHa! Actually they are beautiful and I know your will find a good place for them. Hard to believe they are poisonous though.

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    1. They may not be all that bad – but it’s surprising how many plants do contain toxins. Lilies are the main plants I have to avoid for now because their pollen is so poisonous to cats. I have two lovely moggies and I don’t want to risk their health. But it does surprise me how many plants that are actually toxic are also useful to humans!

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      1. It’s surprising how many plants are toxic to cats, but the good thing is that cats mostly won’t eat them. Lilies are the worst because of the pollen. (I wonder if that also applies to other members of the lily family – I don’t have any of those either.)

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    1. They’re especially lovely to have at this time of year, when so many other flowers have finished blooming. And I promise not to try making snuff from them, hehe!

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  2. ‘Toxic’ can cover a wide range of qualities. Heleniums are native here, and I’ve never heard anything about them being toxic. They grow all over a friend’s land, and her cats don’t seem to be affected. The goats love them! Maybe the warning’s for foragers who tend to eat everything in sight.

    They definitely aren’t bog plants; in fact, I often see them in the hill country, where the soil’s pretty rocky.

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    1. It’s great to know what the normal growing conditions for the plant are – I’ve read quite a lot of conflicting information and was left feeling a bit confused! Maybe I’ll leave them just where they are for now and just make sure to water them in dry weather. 🙂 The US forest service reckons that the leaves are ‘poisonous to humans if eaten in large quantities’ – but who would do that? https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/helenium_autumnale_autumnale.shtml#:~:text=Common%20sneezeweed%20leaves%2C%20flowers%2C%20and,skin%20rash%20in%20some%20people.

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  3. I love Heleniums and I had two (and have just bought two more, but far too small to plant out) a red one and the Moerheim Beauty. Both died. Both were planted in my raised bed and where the soil is usually quite moist. If these new ones die then I guess I have to admit defeat with them. I wish you luck with yours, they are the most gorgeous flowers for this time of year.

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  4. I knew about their being used for snuff, so wrongly assumed they were NOT poisonous! They are certainly colorful. May have to look into them, although I have no boggy areas…..Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I didn’t know about either until searching with Google. I wonder if the toxic element is part of what makes them work as snuff?

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    1. Thanks Jill! I think I’ll leave them where they are right now and then get some advice from a friend who knows a lot more about gardening than I do. (I’m lucky to have someone to ask! 🙂 )

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    1. Well only one of them will be really boggy, because I’m hoping to be able to keep the other just damper than our usual soil. The garden here can get very dry, so it feels worth experimenting to see if I can create different types of planting areas. I may need the luck! 🙂

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