The one thing I absolutely love about horticulture is that it provides a lifetime of wonder and learning. Just last week I snapped photos of a plant whose silhouette I had been admiring for a week at 45 miles per hour. “What is that?” I kept asking. I remembered to put my camera in my car and finally pulled over to have a look. After checking it out, I still didn’t have a clue—a native, I knew, but what?
Petasites palmatus, Palmate Coltsfoot, is the plant I had been admiring. When I came home that evening, we had company—my good friend Kathleen Allasia, also a horticulturist, and so we consulted Pojar & MacKinnon’s Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. “Look under the Saxifrage family”, she said—guessing by the leaves. We were surprised instead to find it under the Asters.
It is growing in a sprawling, dense colony along a wet roadside; inundated in running water in areas. The plant has made it up along the north facing slope of someone’s driveway. Lucky dogs! The silhouette that had caught my eye was the plethora of flower stalks, distinctively stout and round headed, coming up from the sea of fresh looking foliage that stands roughly a foot high.
Now that I have had a better look, I am smitten and determined to try Petasites palmatus in my own garden. I think it was the realization that this 20 foot wide colony of palmate leaves showed absolutely NO slug damage that sealed the deal. Not sure how such gorgeous, moisture loving leaves aren’t a temptation to slugs, but they do have white wooly hairs on the underside—a traditional mollusk appetite suppressant.
In my research on Palmate Coltsfoot, I read that the flowers are either mostly female or mostly male on this plant and that the flower stalks come up BEFORE the leaves do in early spring. If only I had noticed the flowers at that stage-a little harder from my moving vehicle, I guess. But it sounds like a delightful display for the garden and I’ve got wet shade where it could roam freely. Now if I could find the plant in cultivation. Any tips from readers on where I might purchase this plant would be helpful. Otherwise, I might have to pull over again in a few weeks and clip some drying flower heads into a paper sack. Let’s hope that this colony I have found sports both male and female flowers so that I can at least collect some seed.
© Colleen Miko, 2011