Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the July 28, 2013 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA
SNEEZEWEED, PRETTY

A year ago in Mississippi we looked at the abundant, yellow-flowered Composite or Daisy Family roadside weed known as Sneezeweed, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/h/sneeze.htm.

Exactly one year after taking that picture, to the very day, here in Texas I photographed another yellow-flowered Composite with heads displaying the same unusual spherical "eye" as the Sneezeweed, though this one's eye was dark, not yellow like last year's Sneezeweed. This week's picture is shown below:

Pretty Sneezeweed, HELENIUM ELEGANS

A close-up of two flowering heads, the one on the left having had its flowers pollinated and its ray flower corollas discarded, appears below:

Pretty Sneezeweed, HELENIUM ELEGANS, flower heads

A view of a flowering head with several disc flowers removed so you can see the egg-shaped receptacle upon which the disc flowers stand is seen below:

Pretty Sneezeweed, HELENIUM ELEGANS, receptacle

That picture also shows that between the closely packed disc flowers there are no papery bracts separating the cypsela-type fruits, and that the pappi atop the cypselae are low scales instead of the more usual white hairs.

These details -- especially the egg-shaped receptacle -- are the very same as for last summer's Sneezeweed in Mississippi. That's because our Texas plant also is a sneezeweed, which means that it's another species of the genus Helenium. It's HELENIUM ELEGANS, commonly called the Pretty or Elegant Sneezeweed.

Pretty Sneezeweed isn't weedy like last year's species, but rather prefers dry, rocky arroyo beds in limestone areas -- arroyos being streams remaining dry except after rains. Also, Pretty Sneezeweed's leaves aren't threadlike, like regular Sneezeweed's, and Pretty Sneezeweed doesn't occur over such a large area. It's found in arid northeastern Mexico, central and southern Texas, and here and there in Oklahoma, Arkansas and maybe Louisiana.

A worthy feature of Pretty Sneezeweed, besides its prettiness, is that it provides excellent nectar to native bees.

Sneezeweeds get their name from the earlier practice of drying leaves of one or another sneezeweed species to make snuff, which was then inhaled to cause a pleasurable bout of sneezing.