Big Monster Perennial, BUTTERBUR aka PETASITES


A member of the Aster family

Addie under petacites wmAKA: butterbur, coltswold

It’s a Monster!  This leaf was over 36″ across.  That beautiful little 2-year-old is standing underneath it.  She called it her umbrella.  WOW!  Leaves like this just don’t happen in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s crazy (but fun) in our part of the world.  🙂

Some interesting facts:   It was
used by Native Americans as a remedy for headache and inflammation,  Some species contain the chemicals
petasin and isopetasin  which are believed to have potential benefits in treating headaches and can be an effective treatment for hay fever without the sedative effect of the antihistamines.

petacites gigantica bloomspike

petacites gigantica bloomspike

It’s a bold, textural, monster of a plant.  It arrives in the early spring with a strange alien looking bloom spike, followed by leaves that increase in size, until they are too large to be ignored, making them interesting from the time they appear until the end of the season.

How it grows and blooms:  In early spring there is a bloom spike, followed by leaves as the bloom dies out.  They are robust plants with thick, creeping underground rhizomes and large leaves during the growing season.   Some varieties will  grow up to 5’ tall, spreading up to 4’ wide.

petacites varigatus wm

petacites varigatus, tri-color leaf

What it needs:    Plant in full sun to shade. It is very tolerant of most soils, as long it is kept from moist to wet.   All of these petacites have done well in for the last 5 or more years in our yard.  Our winter temperatures have been down to 8*f, so they can take it pretty cold.

How to propagate:  gently separate the clumps.  Potting them up or planting them directly into the garden and keep them cool and moist until they take root.   This is best done in the early spring of fall.  You can put umbrellas over them to protect them from hot sun.

petacites purpureus wmProblems:   A real favorite of slugs.  We bait regularly in wet weather.

Place carefully: this is an aggressive spreader and difficult to eradicate once established. Spreading can be controlled by using bamboo barrier or sinking a heavy plastic or metal tub into the ground and planting within the tub.

How to use it in the landscape:  Petacites are great in large containers, beds or borders.  They will do beautifully at the edges of ponds, streams and wetland areas, since they will tolerate shallow standing water.    Maybe we should add it to our vegetable gardens:  Young leaf stems are used as a vegetable in Japan.  ( I haven’t tried it yet )

Some varieties:    

petasites japonicus var. giganteus,  petasites japonicus var. varigatus,  petasites japonicus var. purpureus, petasites palmatus ‘Golden Palms’

petacites golden palms wm

Photo notes:  All of these photos were taken in our yard, 2012 & 2013.

The umbrella leaf  photo and the bloom spike are both photos of petasites japonicus var. giganteus.

The tri-colored leaf is a very early spring  leaf from petasites japonicus var. varigatus.

The   petasites japonicus var purpureus   has stems and veins that are much more purple than the photo reflects.

The petasites palmatus ‘Golden Palms’  was stuck into the rotted center of a stump several years ago and now is growing all through the stump.  It’s in a very shady spot and it very happy.  The slugs seem to find it less interesting than some of the other varieties.

Any of these would be an exiting and unusual perennial addition to your garden!


About ourhomeinthewoods

I am a wife, mother and nana to an amazing little girl! My husband and I have been working on a huge DIY project for since 1999 and for the foreseeable future. A great house and garden on almost 10 acres in the beautiful, scenic Snoqualmie Valley in the Pacific Northwest. We are very enthusiastic amature gardeners and do-it-yourselfers. We also try to balance great results with great economy, or in other words, we love saving money. The more we save, the more we can spend on more great plants!
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