Petasites palmatus (Palmate Coltsfoot)–Native Plant Fix

The stout flower of palmate coltsfootThe 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


About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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5 Responses to Petasites palmatus (Palmate Coltsfoot)–Native Plant Fix

  1. Linda Carthen says:

    Hello Colleen. I too was enchanted by Palmate Coltsfoot while hiking in the Pacific Northwest. It was a while back but as I recall I dug a small risome or tubor and planted it in a very wet spot in my garden with dappled sunlight. It is such a nice plant–no bugs or problems. It has taken several years to become a fairly large bush. An interesting thing is that it creeps along in the garden bed maybe two or three feet per year and the whole plant advances along not leaving any of itself behind. It appreciated the dose of homemade compost I gave it last fall and this year is magnificent. It usually sends up just one or two flower stocks but this year it blessed me with several more. It has become a star in my English country garden setting. I’m so glad it is near the front walk.

  2. Kathleen Grube says:

    I have some – I think I got it at Flower World in Maltby. I’d be happy to share if you haven’t found any yet.

    • Colleen Miko says:

      That is really a kind offer, Kathleen, though I did get divisions from a friend. Interested to see how vigorous it is. How old is your planting & how do you like it?

  3. Val says:

    I also love this plant. I have seen it growing in the woods in the Northwest and found it recently for sale at Wells Medina Nursery in Bellevue. A friend gave me a start a few years ago and I now have it growing in my woods in a moist spot with dappled shade. It is wonderful and very happy.


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