Today my mission was to go and seek out the flowers I’ve noticed lately just coming into bloom. They grow in swathes of ground I normally overlook, as the plants grow everywhere they can find a patch, and are considered by many to be a nuisance, at best unwelcome, and though the leaf is pretty en masse they can appear as a grubby kind of a plant, this year the late flowers surprised me and made me see their beauty
I find out its name is Winter Heliotrope // Petasites pyrenaicus/fragrans // Plúr na gréine.
The flower is a beauty with its lily shaped leaf and heavenly scent, the Winter Heliotrope is much maligned as a neophyte, an intruder, invasive because of its very efficient rhizomatic propagation, sending out stems in all directions, which take root, growing new plants and weaving vast carpets across all neglected bits of land, damp loving, shade tolerating and hardy, it’s perfectly suited to our weather and its early canopy ensures there is little competition from other species in the areas it covers.
Heliotropes are named for their flower heads that follow the movement of the sun, and these beauties, blooming in winter as they do, provide a food supply for bees, so much so they used to be planted near hives for the bees. They smell lovely, some say like vanilla, and so they were formally known as Petasites fragrans. The Winter Heliotrope has a sister plant known as Butterbur, Petasites hybridus which don’t have any scent. They arrived here from across The Mediteranean (imported via England in 1806) and are now naturalised, and so their status is one of neophyte, which means ‘newly planted’ in Greek, we have only the male flowers here. Petasites propogate rhizomatically, which means they spread via their roots, and this is why they appear as carpets.