Among the popular names by which sneezeweed is known are false sunflower, swamp sunflower, and yellow ox-eye.
The sneezeweed is an erect, soft, downy or nearly smooth perennial plant, growing to a height of two to six feet. The flowering heads are numerous, showy and bright yellow. Each head consists of a central raised globular mass of numerous small flowers, surrounded by ten to eighteen bright yellow ray flowers. The leaves are without stalks, firm, oblong, pointed at the apex and narrowed at the base. The leaves are prolonged more or less down the stem. The seeds are top-shaped, ribbed, and hairy, with five to eight pointed scales at one end. Helenium blooms profusely from August to the end of October, and is often cultivated for that reason.
Sneezeweed is a native of Canadian soil, and is found in swamps, wet meadows, and along streams from Quebec to British Columbia.
This plant is known to be poisonous when eaten in any quantity. As a rule cattle avoid it. Chesnut says: "Sheep, cattle, and horses that are unfamiliar with the plant are often poisoned by it when driven to localities where it is abundant. As a rule, these animals avoid it, but it is said they sometimes develop a taste for it and are quickly killed by eating it in large quantity. The poisonous constituent has not been closely investigated, but it is known that it exists principally in the flowers. The young plants appear to be only very slightly dangerous. In the mature ones the amount of poison present seems to vary greatly even in the same field. The symptoms, as determined by experiments made in Mississippi upon calves, are an accelerated pulse, difficult breathing, staggering, and extreme sensitiveness to the touch. In fatal cases, death is preceded by spasms and convulsions. Melted lard has been used with good effect in offsetting the action of the poison when given before the spasms began."
As the plant prefers wet soil, drainage and cultivation are the best means of preventing its growth. In small patches it may be hand-pulled taking care to get up the perennial roots and to avoid scattering the seeds if they have already formed.
Photo - F. Fyles.