CPC Plant Profile: Virginia Sneezeweed
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Plant Profile

Virginia Sneezeweed (Helenium virginicum)

Photo Credit: Kimberlie McCue
  • Global Rank: N/A
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • State: MO, VA
  • Nature Serve ID: 134817
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/21/2003

Ah-choo! An allergic reaction to Helenium No! The sneezeweed got its name from early settlers who would dry the yellow flower heads and grind them into a snuff. People sniffed the snuff to make them sneeze and open stuffy noses. At the time that Helenium virginicum was listed as federally threatened, the plant was thought to be restricted to about 25 seasonally inundated sinkhole ponds and meadows in Augusta and Rockingham counties, Virginia. Since then, however, more than 25 populations of the sneezeweed have been identified in Missouri. What led to this disjunctive distribution is unknown. H. virginicum is well adapted to the fluctuating water levels of their native habitat and rosettes can sometimes be observed completely submerged. The ability to survive periodic inundation may give the sneezeweed a competitive advantage over other plants in the same habitat.

Participating Institutions
Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

A limited amount of habitat in two Virginia counties and six Missouri counties make up this species' entire global range. There are currently 61 documented occurrences, although 4 or fewer may not be extant, with the majority in Missouri as of 2006. The Virginia occurrences are restricted to small, discrete areas around sinkholes, and occupying, in total, less than 20 acres (8 ha). Missouri occurrences occupy ca. 11 acres within both discrete and less discrete wetland habitat. Six Virginia occurrences are currently protected by being on National Forest land or within state preserves. Only 9 Missouri occurrences have some protection although not complete. Sites in both states are threatened by drainage and residential development.

  • 01/01/2010

Habitat modification is the primary threat to H. virginicum. Some of these modifications include residential development, filling of wetland habitats, and other disruptions of hydrology. Cattle grazing and mowing at moderate levels can be beneficial, ho

  • 01/01/2010

Known from approximately 25-30 sites in Virginia and at least as many sites in Missouri. The number of individual plants at each site varies from year to year, from a few plants to hundreds of thousands (NatureServe)

  • 01/01/2010

A number of studies have been conducted on Helenium virginicum. Common garden and transplant studies distinguished H. virginicum from Canadian narrow-leaved H. autumnale (Knox, et. al. 1995). Phylogenetic analyses using ITS sequence evidence placed H. virginicum occurring in Missouri in a monophyletic group with H. virginicum occurring in Virginia (Simurda and Knox 2000). A nine-year demographic study of H. virginicum in Virginia led to the conclusion that the rarity of the species may result from it being limited to refugia where competition is reduced by a stressful soil and variable hydroperiod (Knox 1997). The species is thought to be self-incompatible, which may put small populations at risk of local extinction (Messmore and Knox 1997). A restoration project to establish populations of H. virginicum in protected areas began in 2002 (Rimer and McCue, in review). A survey of suitable habitat in Missouri located >25 previously unknown populations of H. virginicum (Rimer and Summers, in review)

  • 01/01/2010

Current management practices unknown.

  • 01/01/2010

Survey for additional sites of Virginia sneezeweed throughout the Lower Missouri Ozarks. Evaluate new sites for potential threats to Virginia sneezeweed populations. Monitor Virginia sneezeweed population health at known sites.

  • 01/01/2010

Collection and storage of seed from populations in both Virginia and Missouri.


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Taxon Helenium virginicum
Authority S.F. Blake
Family Asteraceae
CPC Number 2187
ITIS 502914
Common Names Virginia Sneezeweed
Associated Scientific Names Helenium virginicum
Distribution Three counties in southern Missouri (Rimer, pers. comm.) and two counties in northwest Virginia (USFWS, 1998
State Rank
State State Rank
Missouri S3
Virginia S2

In Virginia, the ponds supporting the sneezeweed have poorly drained, acidic, silty loam soils, and are generally flooded from January to July (USFWS 1998). Associated species include, black-fruited spikerush, warty panic grass, and northern St. Johns wort (VA NHP website). In Missouri, H. virginicum occurs at the margins of sinkhole ponds and in wet meadows (Rimer and Summers, in review). The wetlands inhabited by H. virginicum are associated with dolomite and limestone geologies that are subject to fluctuating water levels that vary from year to year (Van Alstine, 2000).

Ecological Relationships

Helenium virginicum flowers from early July to October, with peak flowering occurring in late July to early August at most sites. The pollination biology of H. virginicum has not been studied in detail; however, the primary insect pollinators appear to be bees, wasps (Hymenoptera: Apidae, Halictidae, Sphecidae), butterflies (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae and Lycaenidae, among others), and hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae). Seasonal water fluctuation, particularly inundation, is probably a key factor affecting recruitment and maintenance of H. virginicum populations. (NatureServe 2003)

Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID

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