Inula, a family of surprising sun-like flowers

Inula is a plant that is beautiful for landscaping

Inula key facts
Botanical nameInula sp.
Common names – horseheal, elfdock, fleabane…
FamilyAsteraceae
Type – perennial

Bearing – bushy or upright, depending on the species
Height – from 8 inches to 6 feet, again depending on species
Planting density – variable (per species)

Exposure – sunny to partly sunny
Soil – any type, well drained
Flowering – July, August

With its beautiful yellow flowers, the huge heart of which Van Gogh would have admired, each one of the Inula species is a magnificent flower bed perennial. Ease of care, choice of many sizes, shapes and leafage make it a guaranteed asset in your landscaping.

Planting inula

To make sure each inula plant grows well, prepare soil so that it’s full of organic humus and make sure it drains well. The goal is to retail as much moisture as possible without drowning roots in excess water. For a flamboyant blooming, best results are in full sun. Part sun is also tolerated by Inula. Planting is in fall (spring eventually), just follow these 5 steps:

  • Add organic matter to your soil if it’s lacking. Choose any of the following: soil mix, compost, or manure (ripe).
  • Work it deep into the soil to mix all the layers well and make it easy for roots to wind through.
  • Dig a hole and spread a drainage layer.
  • Plant the specimen and backfill.
  • For taller specimens, such as Inula helenium which reaches 6 feet / 2 meters, you may need to add a stake.

Caring for inula

Deadheading is but one of the tasks to care for inula properlyDiligently do the following for healthy flowers:

  • In spring or fall, add more organic matter to the soil; work it into the soil with a short-toothed rake.
  • Cover the ground with protective mulch to lock moisture underground. An added advantage of mulch is that you won’t need to weed anymore!
  • In summer, if ever a dry spell lasts a bit long, give the plant some water. Not a lot, but do so regularly.
  • When October and November come around, cut the clump back to nearly ground level.

Propagating inula

The best way to get new Inula specimens is clump division. To do so, pull the plant out with a spade fork and tear the root ball apart with your hands. If it’s too difficult, a sharp spade can wedge and cut its way through. Then simply replant each half in the ground, separately.

Diseases that infect Inula

Depending on weather, you might discover bouts of powdery mildew. If this lasts for more than a week or two, start applying a treatment.

Landscaping uses

Taller species (Inula helenium for instance) will look great as standalones. However, for most other species, Inula looks best when surrounded with other flowers such as:

  • Doronicum species, Coreopsis sp., arnica, asphodel and lady’s mantle, if you want a completely yellow flower bed.
  • If instead you prefer complementary colors, it’s a great idea to go for the purple flowers of iris, sage, veronica and lavender, they’ll highlight each other!

Interesting species and varieties

Inula helenium: topping off at nearly 6 feet (2 meters), this is one of the tallest inula species. The voluminous root clump, large leaves and flowers hint to its vocation and calling: I. heleniumlarge flower beds.

Inula ensifolia, a very short varietyInula ensifolia ‘Compacta’: the complete opposite of I. helenium, this is probably one of the smallest species. Never will it grow any higher than 8 inches (20 cm) and its simply perfect for small flower beds and along edges.

Inula royleana: an in-between, just the right size compared to I. helenium and I. ensifolia ‘Compacta’: it only measures about 20 inches (50 cm). Its large 5-inch golden yellow flowers will flash their joy around your summer garden.

Uses for Inula helenium

Inula helenium or Great Inula is an edible plant, it’s even quite often used for its medicinal benefits. The roots of Inula helenium is indeed often categorized as a herb. It works for several different types of ailments, for instance against cough and various inflammations of organs involved in breathing.

The most common manner of using Inula is simply to brew an infusion. Steep the powdered roots in hot water and it will soothe sore throat and clear airways.

Smart tip

Using Inula helenium is not recommended for pregnant women.


Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
Pixabay: Alois Grundner
CC BY-SA 2.0: Rüdiger Stehn
CC BY 2.0: Ettore Balocchi