What’s in a Name?

One of our favorite fall flowers is Helenium autumnale, commonly called “sneezeweed.”  Helenium is covered with flowers from early September until frost, and it blooms in all of the fall colors – yellow, orange, red, and burgundy – sometimes all at once on the same plant! The flowers attract bees and butterflies, and the plant is a reliable, well-behaved perennial that enjoys full sun and average soil moisture. 

Heleniumn autumnale ‘Mariachi Salsa’

The only part of its name that makes sense is “autumnale,” because it does indeed bloom in autumn. Apparently, the name “Helenium” refers to Helen of Troy, and some romantics say that the blooms arose originally from Helen’s tears. Since the plant is native to North America, and Helen of Troy didn’t even know this continent existed, that legend makes no sense.  Maybe the flowers are as beautiful as the mythical Helen? The bees seem to think so.

Multiple colors on the same plant

And then there is the strange and misleading common name – “sneezeweed.” Helenium is pollinated by insects, not wind, so it is not a source of fall allergies. However, the seeds of Helenium were used by certain Native American tribes as a sort of snuff intended to cause violent sneezing when inhaled. It was thought that clearing the sinuses with strong sneezes was therapeutic. Unless you try that, Helenium should not cause any sneezing.

We planted Helenium ‘Mariachi Salsa’ along the foundation of the Manor House, as well as in the Pollinator Garden.  It only grows to about 2 ½ feet tall, and it forms a tidy mound that looks good at the front-to-middle of the garden. Try it for great fall flower color and to feed late-season pollinators. Although the straight species has mostly yellow flowers, nurseries are showing numerous cultivars in a variety of showy fall colors.

Helenium at the Manor House foundation
Helenium in the pollinator garden

Call it Helenium, or even call it “Helen” if you like, but please don’t call it “sneezeweed.” That’s just mean.

This blog is authored weekly by Cathy Ludden, local expert and advocate for native plants and Board Member, Greenburgh Nature Center.

Let’s Talk About Plants!

You probably know the Greenburgh Nature Center best for our animals – the animal museum, the barnyard, the raptors, even the wild animals in the forest — all delight visitors and help our naturalists teach about biodiversity and sustainable living.

Now let’s focus on plants! Plants are the first link in the food chain. Don’t all animals eat plants or other animals that eat plants? Without native plants, most species of insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals native to our region would be deprived of critical food sources. If we are passionate about the natural world, shouldn’t we be paying more attention to plants?

Over the past several years, the Nature Center has recognized the urgent need in our community for more native plants to support wildlife. We decided we should begin in our own backyard.

Our first project was the Native Wildflower Meadow. What was once a weed-infested field is now a glorious highlight of our landscape:

Before: a mess of invasive plants
Today: the Meadow is a place to explore and enjoy

What was once treacherous tumble of rock in front of the Manor House is now our lovely staircase and native garden:

Before: weeds and rocks
Today: A place for people, birds, and pollinators

And just this summer, a community group was inspired to plant a spectacular Pollinator Garden, full of native flowers and grasses, right at the edge of the Great Lawn:

Heaven for bees and and butterflies

The impact of these gardens was immediate. Greg Wechgelaer, our Director of Education and beekeeper, noticed that honey production in our beehives increased by over 50% the first season after the Meadow was planted. In addition, the Meadow has become a place for learning and for contemplation.

Naturalist, Travis Brady, teaching in the outdoor classroom in the Meadow
Peaceful moment in the Oak Circle at one end of the Meadow

The butterfly population on the grounds has exploded, and children are finding monarch caterpillars right next to the Manor House steps.

So, now we are talking about plants: what we should plant and where, which plants are best for home gardens, which plants should be avoided, and how everybody can add native plants to our landscapes for the benefit of nature.

Follow this blog to see what is happening on our grounds each week. We will feature specific plants, tell you where to find them on our grounds, and give you tips for how you can grow them, too. We are eager to share what we have learned, and to hear your questions and ideas.

And come take a look around! There are wonderful plants to see right now, and in every season that follows.

This blog will be authored weekly by Cathy Ludden, local expert and advocate for native plants and Board Member, Greenburgh Nature Center.

Nature Center Adds New Pollinator Garden

Written by: Anne Myers

In recent years the Greenburgh Nature Center has expanded its educational and environmental resources to include a Native Plant Meadow and Native Plant Garden adjacent to the Manor House.  Planting for pollinators is again the focus of this newest addition.

In the spring of 2020, Cathy Ludden, a Greenburgh Nature Center Board Member for many years and immediate past president, worked with Anne Myers, a fellow member of the Garden Club of Irvington, to donate and plant a small Pollinator Garden as part of the Pollinator Pathway project in the Town of Greenburgh.  This initial garden was significantly enlarged in early June 2021 to frame the woodland path leading to the Native Plant Meadow.  

Cleared site of new garden – “before”

The expanded Pollinator Garden, sited at the woodland edge of the great lawn, is planted with over 400 native grasses and perennials that provide nectar and pollen and serve as host plants for butterflies.  It will soon offer educational signage about the importance of pollinators, native plants and native bees. The selection of natives not only best supports the environment, but also demonstrates which plants work well in homeowners’ gardens

Our dedicated gardeners

The plant list developed by Cathy for the garden includes only native grasses and perennials that provide nectar and pollen for pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds and serve as host plants for butterflies. Natives offer many benefits:  they contribute to biodiversity; flourish without pesticides; offer food and protection for wildlife; support beneficial insects that help control garden pests; contribute to clean air and water and deter soil erosion. 

Finished garden 3 weeks post-planting

This new and enlarged garden became possible through the generosity of friends and family of Geraldine “Gerrie” Shapiro.

Gerrie Shapiro, who passed away in the fall of 2020, was a valued and devoted member of the Garden Club of Irvington for decades.  In her honor GCI established a fund, the Gerrie Shapiro Memorial Fund, which would go toward the creation of a garden dedicated to her memory.  Many who knew and loved her gave their support to the project.

Signs of new life

The Greenburgh Nature Center encourages you to explore this new native garden and see what kinds of pollinators and signs of life you can find blooming, buzzing and crawling about.

How to Start a Business That Helps the Planet

Author: Joyce Wilson

 Greenburgh Nature Center was established in 1973, when local residents voted to buy land with the purpose of protecting wildlife. Today, the Nature Center impacts over 85,000 community members annually, and are the first nature center to be a certified green business.

While the Nature Center is a nonprofit, you don’t have to be a charitable organization to help the environment. All types of businesses can be eco-friendly. Whether you want to start a local business or launch a green startup, you can do it while saving the planet. Here’s how!

How to launch a green business

How do you go from a great idea to a real business? Every entrepreneur takes certain steps when starting out.

  • Write a business plan. A business plan outlines your mission, strategy, customers, and competitors. A good business plan identifies opportunities and obstacles in your business idea.
  • Choose a business name that reflects your mission. Not sure where to start? Use a business name generator for ideas.
  • Choose a business structure. Will your business be a nonprofit, a corporation, or a small business? When you want to start a business in NY, this is one of the first steps. Most small businesses register as a limited liability company, or LLC. An accountant can help you choose the right business structure.
  • Apply for licenses, permits, and tax IDs. You may need licenses and permits from both state and federal government depending on the industry.

Eco-friendly business ideas

Nature lovers come from all walks of life. No matter your interests, there’s an eco-friendly business idea you’ll love.

  • Are you passionate about food? Start a farm-to-table restaurant or food truck, an organic food company, or a custom gardening service.
  • Green retail businesses include secondhand shops, zero-waste markets, eco-friendly clothing stores, and nontoxic hair salons. Or, provide sustainable services like eco-friendly event planning, landscape design, green cleaning, composting, or construction. The possibilities are endless!
  • Some eco-entrepreneurs become consultants. Environmental consultants advise businesses and individuals on things like sustainability, pollution, waste management, and green building design.

5 more ways businesses can go green

You don’t have to be an eco-friendly business to go green. All types of businesses can help the environment with the right practices.

  • Remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle. This rule applies to everything from paper to office supplies, food waste, packaging, and more.
  • Reduce energy consumption with programmable thermostats and energy-efficient light bulbs and business equipment.
  • Use non-toxic cleaning products. Many cleaning products create air pollution. Green cleaning products are safer for people and the planet.
  • Support other green businesses. By choosing eco-friendly suppliers, you make an even bigger impact on the environment.
  • Buy carbon offsets. Carbon offsets make up for the carbon emissions that businesses can’t avoid.

Starting a business is a great way to follow your dreams and strengthen the local economy. And now, you understand how small businesses can help the environment too! No matter what type of business you start, make going green part of your company’s mission.

If You Care, Leave It There: What To Do When You Find a Baby Animal

As spring transitions to summer each year, the Greenburgh Nature Center receives many questions from concerned Westchester residents regarding what to do when a baby or injured animal is found. Although we are happy to provide information on this issue, the Greenburgh Nature Center itself is not a rehabilitation center and the only people legally allowed to treat and release wild animals are wildlife rehabilitators licensed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). If you see a clear injury or are having doubts, please refrain from bringing any animals to the Nature Center and instead visit the DEC’s website for a list of licensed rehabilitators in your area.

The DEC reminds us all that late May to early June is peak birthing season for a variety of New York wildlife and it is not unusual to come across baby animals that appear to be orphaned or neglected. However, these young animals are in fact going through a normal process of learning how to survive on their own. Attempting to remove them from the wild often does more harm than good. Parents are usually still in the area checking in on their babies and they may delay their visits if they detect human interference. This is why it is so important to adhere to the DEC saying, “If You Care, Leave It There.”

For more information, please visit:

Wildlife Rehabilitators

Care of Young Wildlife

DEC Urges New Yorkers: If You Care, Leave It There