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Petasites Vulgaris - Hardy Perennial

Author: John Wood

Petasites Vulgaris - Hardy Perennials and Old Fashioned Flowers

Petasites Vulgaris Described.

Petasites Vulgaris - Syns. Tussilago Petasites and T. Fragrans; Winter Heliotrope and Common Butterbur; Nat. Ord. Compositæ.

I must explain why this native weed, of rampant growth and perennial character, is here mentioned as a fit subject for the garden. It blooms in the depth of winter—in fact, all winter; the flowers are not showy at all, but they are deliciously scented, whence the specific name fragrans and the common one "Winter Heliotrope," as resembling the scent of heliotrope. In its wild state it does not flower so early as when under cultivation; the latter state is also more favourable to its holding some green foliage throughout the winter. It has been said that there are different forms—male and female, or minor and major.

Parkinson recognises two forms, and as his remarks are interesting and clearly point to the variety under notice, I will quote him from "The Theater of Plants," page 419: "The Butter burre is of two sorts, the one greater and the other lesser, differing also in the flowers, as you shall heare; but because they are so like one another, one description shall serve for them both. Each of them riseth up very early in the yeare, that is, in February, with a thicke stalke about a foote high, whereon are set a few small leaves, or rather peeces, and at the toppes a long spiked head of flowers, in the one which is the lesse and the more rare to finde, wholly white and of a better sent than the other (yet some say it hath no sent), in the greater, which is more common with us, of a blush or deepe red colour, according to the soile wherein it groweth, the clay ground bringing a paler colour somewhat weake, and before the stalke with the flowers have abidden a moneth above ground will be withered and gon, blowen away with the winde, and the leaves will beginne to spring, which when they are full growne are very large and broad, that they may very well serve to cover the whole body, or at the least the head like an umbello from the sunne and raine."

The flowers are produced on bare, fleshy scapes, springing from amongst the old foliage; the new leaves not appearing until much later. The bloom is small, of a pinky white colour; they are miniature forms, resembling the coltsfoot flowers, being arranged, however, in clusters. The leaves are large, cordate, downy, and soft to the touch, having long stout stems; they vary much in size, from 3in. to more than a foot across, according to the nature of the soil.

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Petasites Vulgaris

The usefulness of this plant consists entirely in its flowers as cut bloom, the least bit of which fills a large room with its most agreeable perfume. The plant, therefore, need not be grown in the more ornamental parts of the garden, and it should have a space exclusively allotted to it. It runs widely underground, and soon fills a large space. It enjoys moisture, but I have proved it to be more productive of bloom with leaves of half their usual size when planted in a rather dry situation with light but good soil. Usually a root does not produce flowers until two years after it has been planted. Poor as the flowers otherwise are, they are of great value in winter, when finely-scented kinds are scarce. They may be mixed with more beautiful forms and colours so as not to be seen, when, like violets in the hedgerow, they will exhale their grateful odour from a position of modest concealment.

Flowering period, November to February.

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