Species of the Month - March 2017


Petasites hybridus

Petasites hybridus

Butterbur forms large patches in damp places at low altitude.  The flower spikes emerge between February and early April, and the leaves begin to emerge about the same time but don't reach full size until after the flowers have finished.  The leaves eventually become as big as rhubarb leaves and cover the ground over a large area, forming unbroken shade which prevents other plants from growing between them.  The leaves arise singly, not in tufts from a crown like those of rhubarb.

Petasites hybridus

Butterbur provides a feast for bumblebees at a time when few other plants are in flower.  On a sunny day a patch of Butterbur is a good place to watch the behaviour of bees and other early spring insects.

Petasites hybridus    

Petasites hybridus


Each flowering spike has many closely-packed inflorescences, which themselves consist of 20 or more tubular male flowers in the centre and a few rayed female flowers around the edge.  In some parts of Britain there is another form of Butterbur with about 100 female flowers in the inflorescence and only a few male ones, but that form does not occur in our area.

Petasites hybridus   Petasites hybridus

When Butterbur colonises a damp patch of ground next to a burn, it will often put up shoots in the flowing water of the burn itself, but they struggle to survive there.


Petasites hybridus

A patch of leaves which have almost reached their full size after the flowers have died down.

Petasites hybridus

Each inflorescence is surrounded by a pinkish-gold involucre, and has a narrow pink bract at its base.

Petasites fragrans

This is Winter Heliotrope, an introduced species similar to Butterbur but with much shorter flowering spikes consisting of only about 10 inflorescences, not closely packed together.  It can flower as early as December but continues through March.  Its leaves form large patches like those of Butterbur, but each leaf is only to about 20 cm wide, whereas those of Butterbur can be up to 100 cm.  It tends to be in drier and less flat places than Butterbur, often on roadside banks.

Please send in
your Butterbur sightings using the form below, or email sightings@lnhg.org.uk with the details if you prefer.  If you are not sure of the identity of your plant, please send a photo to sightings@lnhg.org.uk, or put one on the LNHG Facebook page.

Date of sighting 
Grid reference 
Name of finder 
Your name (if different) 
Email (not needed if I already know it!) 
Any other details, e.g quantity, habitat    


By filling in this form you agree that the information contained in this form may be collated and disseminated manually or electronically for environmental decision-making, education, research and other public benefit uses in accordance with the LNHG data access policy.  Your email address will not form part of the record and will not be passed on to anyone.

Carl Farmer
LNHG Biological Records Manager

Sightings so far

Mar 5: Found by Lynsey Gibson, plentiful along canal bank at Ardrishaig

Mar 6: Found by Mary Redman: Poking up by the path going down to Machir bay, Islay. Just by a burn

Mar 21: Large patch between road and shore at Ardchattan, Carl

Mar 26: Very plentiful along road from Ardfern road end to Kintraw and beyond, Carl


Note you can still send in records for past species of the month.  Here are the previous March species:

Mar 2016 - Coltsfoot
Mar 2015 - Hebrew Character
Mar 2014 - Hairy Bittercress
Mar 2013 - Oak Beauty
Mar 2012 - March Moth
Mar 2011 - Frogspawn

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This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage

All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer except where stated.  Mouse over photos to see credits.