Bigelow’s Sneezeweed

Helenium bigelovii gets its common name, Bigelow’s sneezeweed, due to the irritation it causes in people allergic to it. Another reference attributed the name to the fact that people would smell the flower in order to make themselves sneeze. Why would someone want to sneeze?

This member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae) grows below 11,000 feet in California, Oregon and Arizona. Cultivars of Bigelow’s sneezeweed are also used by gardeners throughout the United States as ornamentals. Its natural habitat includes wet meadows, marshes, bogs, streambanks and lake margins.

A few erect stems arise from the roots of this native perennial. The stems are unbranched or sparingly branched distally, reddish toward the bottom, weakly winged and glabrous or sparsely hairy. The entire lance-shaped to linear leaves also may lack hairs or be slightly hairy. The basal and lower cauline (stem) leaves have short, winged petioles (stalks). The upper leaves clasp the stem with wings continuing down the stem.

The inflorescence is a head containing 14 to 20 droopy, yellow ray flowers and 250 to 500 or more disk flowers. The disk flowers are yellow turning to brown and purple with age.

Biglow’s sneezeweed fruits are hairy achenes with a pappus of scales.

Bigelow’s sneezeweed root preparations were used by Native Americans and early settlers to alleviate rheumatic pains, treat stomach disorders and cure colic and diarrhea in infants.

The genus, Helenium, was named for Helen of Troy. John Milton Bigelow (1804 – 1878) is honored by the species designation. Bigelow was an American surgeon and botanist who collected botanic specimens on the Pacific Railroad Expedition and the Mexican Boundary Expedition.

These Bigelow’s sneezeweed plants were growing along Siskiyou County Road 26 in the Shasta Trinity National Forest in California and photographed in July.

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