Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Autumn sneezeweed

with 38 comments

One place I’ve learned to look for autumn sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) is a spot along the trail that follows Bull Creek near Lakewood Dr. Sure enough, that’s where I found this flower head and bud on September 30th. On another flower head a grey Tachinid fly agreed to sit for its portrait.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 1, 2021 at 4:38 AM

38 Responses

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  1. As much as I’ve been sneezing, I wonder if this is the culprit.


    November 1, 2021 at 8:08 AM

    • In Texas, Austin is about as close to Houston as this species grows, so I think not. Likely culprits are the various species of ragweed and sumpweed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2021 at 8:16 AM

  2. Let me guess. You created the dark almost black background by using the flash. The other day my wife created a similar flower image because she had accidentally left the flash on. I immediately thought of the technique you often use, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    November 1, 2021 at 9:42 AM

    • You’re right about my use of flash. My main motivation is that the extra light lets me stop down to a small aperture for increased depth of field and more sharp details. Secondarily that combination often leads to dark backgrounds that isolate a subject well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2021 at 1:21 PM

  3. (Nearly) anything that spreads their pollen with the wind is “sneezeweed” for me. 😉


    November 1, 2021 at 10:16 AM

  4. Beautiful details on both images, but what a bonus the fly came by too!


    November 1, 2021 at 12:13 PM

    • In looking over photographs from the last couple of months I noticed quite a few little critters. Just this morning I found two kinds of spiders on flowers I was photographing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2021 at 1:32 PM

      • That’s cool! I wonder if your subconscious sees them that’s why you select those plants/flowers to make images of? After all the years you’ve been doing this type of photography I have to believe something like “second sight” there’s a better saying but I can’t think of it now… any way that sight is kicking in. 😀


        November 1, 2021 at 2:44 PM

        • I’m afraid you’re giving me too much credit. Some of those insects and spiders were small and inconspicuous, so at a distance I don’t think my senses could have detected them. It was more a case of noticing them after I’d gotten close to take a picture of a flower. For years I’ve been wondering how many things I failed to detect altogether. I have to assume I’ve missed my share. On the positive side, by going out often enough I’m pretty well assured of finding at least some good things.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 1, 2021 at 3:36 PM

  5. Is this a cause of sneezing like our ragweed? If so it’s a pretty “poison”.

    Steve Gingold

    November 1, 2021 at 12:41 PM

    • Whoever named plants in this genus sneezeweed must have believed the flowers cause sneezing, but I can’t remember ever sneezing because of this wildflower or the more common species that’s around for much of the year. Ragweed and sumpweed—now that’s a different story.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2021 at 1:36 PM

      • Although the name has nothing to do with sneezing, one has a hard time getting across to some folks that goldenrod does not make one sneeze. Both that and ragweed flower around the same time so guilt by association.

        Steve Gingold

        November 1, 2021 at 2:34 PM

  6. Gesundheit!


    November 1, 2021 at 5:56 PM

  7. Tachinid fly. 😉

    Alessandra Chaves

    November 1, 2021 at 8:06 PM

  8. Is it my imagination, or are the disk flowers of this species more rounded, and more prominent, than in other sneezeweeds? We have sneezeweed here, and I’ve seen sneezeweed in the hill country, but this looks rather different. I see that it’s relatively limited in its range, so I may never have seen it, even though it is listed for Kerr and Gillespie counties.


    November 2, 2021 at 7:20 AM

    • I just found a couple of photos of sneezeweed I took at the Artist Boat, and the same mounded disk flowers are prominent there, too. Memory isn’t always trustworthy!


      November 2, 2021 at 7:31 AM

      • I didn’t see your addendum till after I left my reply, which offers a couple of other Helenium species for comparison. To say that memory isn’t always trustworthy is an understatement, as scientists have shown so convincingly in recent decades.

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 2, 2021 at 7:46 AM

    • Helenium elegans var. elegans, also called sneezeweed, strikes me as having a disk at least equally round, and even closer to spherical:


      It’s another species you can be on the lookout for in the center of the state, as it doesn’t grow near the coast. The Helenium species I most often see in Austin is this one:

      A bitterweed bud and bloom and beyond and a bee

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2021 at 7:43 AM

      • Sure enough. And now that I’ve browsed a bit more, I found some images of our purple sneezeweed with pretty red ray flowers. I found them right on the Galveston/Brazoria county line, in that little patch of land that was filled with such treasures before being sold and becoming a flat, bare piece of earth with hardly a blade of grass to be seen. Every time I drive past it, I become grumpy all over again.


        November 2, 2021 at 8:13 AM

        • What species is the purple sneezeweed with red ray flowers?

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 2, 2021 at 8:27 AM

          • Helenium flexuosum I have some photos of it with yellow rays, too, which may be more typical.


            November 2, 2021 at 8:34 AM

            • I see that that species doesn’t grow further west than east Texas, which may be why I don’t remember ever seeing it. On the other hand, the USDA map shows it for Long Island, so maybe I unconsciously saw some when I was growing up.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 2, 2021 at 8:39 AM

  9. LOL, the thought of getting the fly to sit for its portrait amuses me – and something I spend a fair bit of time doing with insects too. 🙂

    Ann Mackay

    November 3, 2021 at 8:24 AM

    • Yeah, I though it was an amusing way to phrase it. From what you say, you know how difficult it can be to get pictures of insects before they fly away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 3, 2021 at 8:32 AM

      • Some are more cooperative than others! I like those that are in no hurry to go anywhere, but a challenge is good too.

        Ann Mackay

        November 4, 2021 at 6:29 PM

  10. Are there different types of Sneezeweed? What I have been calling Sneezeweed has droopy petals even when the flowers are fresh.


    November 5, 2021 at 1:07 PM

  11. What a name. Reminds me of what as kids we used to call itchweed in Germany. Bet you can guess why we called it that. 😦

    Todd Henson

    November 7, 2021 at 11:25 AM

    • I’d certainly steer clear of a plant called itchweed. The Austin area has a plant called cow itch vine. Whether it makes cows itch, I don’t know; I’ve handled it and have never had a reaction. As far as I know, our sneezeweed has never made me sneeze, though other plants have.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2021 at 11:30 AM

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