Helenium flexuosum (Purple-Headed Sneezeweed, ETC.)

Helenium flexuosum (Sneezeweed) on 7-17-13, #163-12.

Purple-Headed Sneezeweed, Southern Sneezeweed, Purple Sneezeweed, Purplehead Sneezeweed

Helenium flexuosum

hel-EE-nee-um  fleks-yoo-OH-sum

Synonyms of Helenium flexuosum (14) (Updated on 11-26-22 from Plants of the World Online): Heleniastrum nudiflorum (Nutt.) Kuntze, Heleniastrum parviflorum Kuntze, Helenium atropurpureum Kunth & C.D.Bouché, Helenium brachypodum Alph.Wood, Helenium floridanum Fernald, Helenium godfreyi Fernald, Helenium micranthum Nutt., Helenium nudiflorum Nutt., Helenium nudiflorum f. homochroma M.D.Howe, Helenium nudiflorum var. purpureum A.Gray, Helenium quadridentatum Hook., Helenium seminariense Featherm., Leptopoda brachypoda Torr. & A.Gray, Leptopoda floridana Raf.

Helenium flexuosum Raf. is the accepted scientific name for the Purple-Headed Sneezeweed. It was named and described as such by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in New Flora and Botany of North America in 1836.

The genus, Helenium L., was named and described as such by Carl von Linnaeus in the second volume of the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753.

As of 11-26-22 when this page was last updated, Plants of the World Online lists 33 species in the Helenium genus. It is a member of the plant family Asteraceae with a total of 1,689 genera. Those numbers are likely to change periodically as updates are made on POWO. The number of genera in this family fluctuates often.

Distribution map of Helenium flexuosum from Plants of the World Online. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; http://www.plantsoftheworldonline.org/. Retrieved on October 20, 2021.

The above distribution map for Helenium flexuosum is from Plants of the World Online. Areas in green are where the species is native and purple where it has been introduced. The map on the USDA Plants Database for the United States and Canada is somewhat different and shows a few more states. Common names include Purple-Headed Sneezeweed, Southern Sneezeweed, Purple Sneezeweed, Purplehead Sneezeweed, and possibly others.

The map on iNaturalist shows where members have made observations. Anyone can join and it is a great website to confirm and share your observations. The maps on iNaturalist are continually updated as members post new observations.


Helenium flexuosum (Sneezeweed) on 7-17-13, #163-13.

I found this small colony of Helenium flexuosum on the farm in 2013 but I haven’t found it since then. I hadn’t gotten that much into wildflower ID until 2019, so I didn’t take that many photos of this species in 2013. Since 2019, I take LOTS of photos. Hopefully, I can find this species again.

Helenium flexuosum is a  perennial wildflower that is native to the central U.S. and Canada eastward. In Missouri, they are most common south of the Missouri River. They prefer growing in wet to moist soil in full to part sun and will even tolerate temporary flooding. Plants grow from a fibrous root system, growing multiple stems from offsets.

Plants can be found in damp areas in forests, around ponds, along streams and riverbanks, prairies and pastures, and along ditches as long as there is plenty of moisture. This wildflower does not tolerate dry conditions and will wither and die during periods of drought.

Plants grow from 1-3’ or taller in favorable conditions and bloom from June through November.

Helenium flexuosum (Purple-Headed Sneezeweed) stems and leaves photographed by iNaturalist member Josh Vandermeulen on 7-23-18 and used here by permission. The iNaturalist is published on the internet at https://inaturalist.org. The photo was retrieved on February 2, 2022.

My thanks to Josh Vandermeulen, iNaturalist member, for allowing me to use the above photo from an observation he made and submitted to iNaturalist on July 23 in 2018…

This species has ascending to erect stems and may branch out above the midpoint. The stems have narrow to broad wings with downward-facing (decurrent) leaves. Stems can be smooth (glabrous) or have very short hairs (pubescent) that are sometimes curved or curled. Missouri Plants says the stems are dotted with yellow glands…

Helenium flexuosum (Purple-Headed Sneezeweed) stems and leaves photographed by iNaturalist member Josh Vandermeulen on 7-23-18 and used here by permission. The iNaturalist is published on the internet at https://inaturalist.org. The photo was retrieved on February 2, 2022.

The basal leaves of the Helenium flexuosum grow in an alternate manner along the lower part of the stem. They can be smooth (glabrous) or have short hairs (pubescent), are narrowly lance-shaped to sometimes narrowly obovate, and grow to around 3” long x 1” across. The leaves in the center (median) to the upper part of the stem could be somewhat longer and of the same shape with possibly a few having shallow lobes or teeth. Basal and lower stem leaves are usually absent or withering during flowering. Other leaves clasp the stems, forming downward-facing (decurrent) extensions of the leaf along the stems…

Helenium flexuosum (Sneezeweed) on 7-17-13, #163-14.

Individual flowers appear at the ends of multiple stems on the upper part of the plant.

The flower heads are composed of numerous reddish-brown to dark purple disc florets. They are surrounded by 8-14 V-shaped sterile ray florets (petals) with three rounded lobes. They are normally yellow, but can also have reddish streaks or be reddish-tinged. Surrounding the flowers are interesting involucral bracts (or phyllaries) that curve upward during flowering. Missouri Plants says there are two sets of bracts, but I will have to find this species again to have a closer look…

Some information online says Carl Linnaeus named the genera, Helenium, after Helen of Troy. The leaves of a few species of Helenium were used as a snuff and inhaled to induce sneezing to rid the body of evil spirits. There are a few species in the genus used for this purpose which is where their common name, Sneezeweed, comes from.

Plants are toxic and have a bitter taste making them undesirable for grazing cattle, deer, and other herbivores. If eaten, however, it can turn their milk bitter. If they eat a significant amount it can cause “spewing disease” which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even death…

Many insects visit the flowers seeking pollen and nectar. Other insects eat their leaves and pith in their stems. 

I HOPE I can find the Helenium flexuosum again SOMEWHERE in 2022… I need more photos!

I have enjoyed photographing and learning about the many wildflowers growing on the farm and in other areas. The farm is in Windsor, Missouri in Pettis County (Henry County is across the street, and Benton and Johnson aren’t far away). I have grown over 500 different plants and identified over 250 species of wildflowers. Most have pages listed on the right side of the blog. I am not an expert, botanist, or horticulturalist. I just like growing, photographing and writing about my experience. I rely on several websites for ID and a horticulturalist I contact if I cannot figure them out. Wildflowers can be somewhat variable from location to location, so sometimes it gets a bit confusing. If you see I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct what I have written.

I hope you found this page useful and be sure to check the links below for more information. They were written by experts and provide much more information. Some sites may not be up-to-date but they are always a work in progress. If you can, I would appreciate it if you would click on the “Like” below and leave a comment. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. You can also send an email to me at thebelmontrooster@yahoo.com. I would enjoy hearing from you especially if you notice something is a bit whacky.



NOTE: The data (figures, maps, accepted names, etc.) may not match on these websites. It depends on when and how they make updates and when their sources make updates. Some websites have hundreds and even many thousands of species to keep up with. Accepted scientific names change periodically and it can be hard to keep with as well. Some of the links may use a name that is a synonym on other sites. In my opinion, Plants of the World Online by Kew is the most reliable and up-to-date plant database and they make updates on a regular basis. I make updates “at least” once a year and when I write new pages or add new photos but I do get behind. We are all a work in progress. 🙂

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