Saturday, August 15, 2009
809 Bloom Day #1: Helenium and the Pugs
On a recent foray into the retail garden center universe awash in mid-summer blahs I found an end-cap full of some surprising one gallon blooming plants completely new to me: sneezeweed. Hmm, plants with "weed" in the common name can be wonderful or they might be trouble. I bought some since the price was right, the way the petals fall back away from the maturing seed heads was appealing, and the tie-dye colors were irresistible; but I never plant anything new without doing a bit of research.
Turns out these particular plants, variety Mardi Gras, are a hybrid of unknown (to me) parents from the fairly well populated genus Helenium of native North American daisy- or coneflower-like plants. I was surprised and tantalized to learn how many Heleniums there are. But for now, I have planted this one in a large clay pot close to a hose spigot. Another common name for this plant, swamp sunflower, proclaims sneezeweed's preference for damp, rich soil. Even in an arid land with water police patrolling the neighborhoods, I can still safely provide that kind of environment in a pot, ergo, the pot. After they finish blooming and go dormant I'll see about planting these out or maybe giving them to someone with a wetter garden. Today there is a profusion of flowers to enjoy and that's nothing to sneeze at.
Sneezeweed was apparently once used as some sort of herbal remedy that was snuffed up the nose, causing the snuffer to sneeze profusely. Hence the name. The genus name Helenium of course comes from the Greek helios which is the sun. Full sun is recommended for growing the happiest sneezeweeds, again along with plenty of water.
Compositae, especially coneflowers and sunflowers, are magnets for female eupithecia moths. Sure enough, the helenium flowers are loaded with pugs, the pseudo-affectionate name for the caterpillars of these ubiquitous if generally unnoticed small drab moths. The larvae feed on the disk flower parts, and can be seen here in their many positions, including the stretch, the squiggle, the loop and the arch. Pugs (like other caterpillars in the Geometrid family) have only two pairs of prolegs at the end of their body (unlike other caterpillars which have up to five) and so move in the characteristic inchworm fashion.
The caterpillars take on various colorations, probably as a result of their food source. The variety seen here is typical. Colorful pugs, colorful blooms.