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Winter Heliotrope

Petasites fragrans

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Asteraceae (Daisy)
Also in this family:
Alpine Blue Sow-thistle, Alpine Cotula, Alpine Fleabane, Alpine Saw-wort, Annual Ragweed, Annual Sunflower, Argentine Fleabane, Autumn Hawkbit, Autumn Oxeye, Beaked Hawksbeard, Beggarticks, Bilbao Fleabane, Black Knapweed, Black-eyed Susan, Blanketflower, Blue Fleabane, Blue Globe-thistle, Bristly Oxtongue, Broad-leaved Cudweed, Broad-leaved Ragwort, Brown Knapweed, Butterbur, Buttonweed, Cabbage Thistle, Canadian Fleabane, Canadian Goldenrod, Carline Thistle, Chalk Knapweed, Chamois Ragwort, Changing Michaelmas Daisy, Chicory, Chinese Mugwort, Chinese Ragwort, Coltsfoot, Common Blue Sow-thistle, Common Cat's-ear, Common Cudweed, Common Daisy, Common Dandelion, Common Fleabane, Common Goldenrod, Common Groundsel, Common Michaelmas Daisy, Common Mugwort, Common Ragwort, Common Wormwood, Coneflower, Confused Michaelmas Daisy, Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower, Cotton Thistle, Cottonweed, Creeping Thistle, Daisy Bush, Dwarf Cudweed, Dwarf Thistle, Early Goldenrod, Eastern Groundsel, Eastern Leopardsbane, Elecampane, English Hawkweed, Fen Ragwort, Feverfew, Field Fleawort, Field Wormwood, Fox and Cubs, French Tarragon, Gallant Soldier, Garden Lettuce, Giant Butterbur, Glabrous-headed Hawkweed, Glandular Globe-thistle, Glaucous Michaelmas Daisy, Globe Artichoke, Globe-thistle, Goat's Beard, Golden Ragwort, Golden Samphire, Goldilocks Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, Great Lettuce, Greater Burdock, Greater Knapweed, Grey-headed Hawkweed, Guernsey Fleabane, Hairless Blue Sow-thistle, Hairless Leptinella, Hairy Michaelmas Daisy, Harpur Crewe's Leopardsbane, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Heath Cudweed, Heath Groundsel, Hemp Agrimony, Highland Cudweed, Hoary Mugwort, Hoary Ragwort, Hybrid Knapweed, Intermediate Burdock, Irish Fleabane, Jersey Cudweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lance-leaved Hawkweed, Lavender-cotton, Leafless Hawksbeard, Least Lettuce, Leopardplant, Leopardsbane, Leptinella, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Hawkbit, Lesser Sunflower, London Bur-marigold, Magellan Ragwort, Marsh Cudweed, Marsh Hawksbeard, Marsh Ragwort, Marsh Sow-thistle, Marsh Thistle, Meadow Thistle, Melancholy Thistle, Mexican Fleabane, Milk Thistle, Mountain Everlasting, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Musk Thistle, Narrow-leaved Cudweed, Narrow-leaved Hawkweed, Narrow-leaved Michaelmas Daisy, Narrow-leaved Ragwort, New England Hawkweed, New Zealand Holly, Nipplewort, Nodding Bur-marigold, Northern Hawksbeard, Norwegian Mugwort, Oxeye Daisy, Oxford Ragwort, Pearly Everlasting, Perennial Cornflower, Perennial Ragweed, Perennial Sow-thistle, Perennial Sunflower, Pineapple Mayweed, Plantain-leaved Leopardsbane, Ploughman's Spikenard, Plymouth Thistle, Pontic Blue Sow-thistle, Pot Marigold, Prickly Lettuce, Prickly Sow-thistle, Purple Coltsfoot, Rayed Tansy, Red Star Thistle, Red-seeded Dandelion, Red-tipped Cudweed, Robin's Plantain, Roman Chamomile, Rough Cocklebur, Rough Hawkbit, Rough Hawksbeard, Russian Lettuce, Safflower, Salsify, Saw-wort, Scented Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed, Sea Aster, Sea Mayweed, Sea Wormwood, Seaside Daisy, Shaggy Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shaggy Soldier, Shasta Daisy, Shetland Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Shrub Ragwort, Sicilian Chamomile, Silver Ragwort, Slender Mugwort, Slender Thistle, Small Cudweed, Small Fleabane, Smooth Cat's-ear, Smooth Hawksbeard, Smooth Sow-thistle, Sneezeweed, Sneezewort, Spear Thistle, Spotted Cat's-ear, Spotted Hawkweed, Sticky Groundsel, Stinking Chamomile, Stinking Hawksbeard, Tall Fleabane, Tall Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Tansy, Thin-leaved Sunflower, Treasureflower, Trifid Bur-marigold, Tuberous Thistle, Tyneside Leopardplant, Viper's Grass, Wall Lettuce, Welsh Groundsel, Welted Thistle, White African Daisy, White Butterbur, White Buttons, Willdenow's Leopardsbane, Wood Burdock, Wood Ragwort, Woody Fleabane, Woolly Thistle, Yarrow, Yellow Chamomile, Yellow Fox and Cubs, Yellow Oxeye, Yellow Star Thistle, Yellow Thistle, York Groundsel
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
1 metre tall
Gardens, grassland, hedgerows, meadows, parks, riverbanks, riversides, roadsides, rocky places, seaside, wasteland, waterside, woodland.

Pink, 5 petals
The Winter Heliotrope produces small, fragrant, pink or white flowers. These blooms are typically clustered in dense, cylindrical spikes, creating a visually appealing display. The flowers emerge in late winter to early spring, adding a touch of colour and fragrance to the winter landscape.
The Winter Heliotrope does not produce fruit in the traditional sense. Instead, it propagates through rhizomes, which are underground stems. The plant is known for its fragrant flowers rather than the development of conspicuous fruits.
The leaves of Winter Heliotrope are large, heart-shaped, and have a distinctively green appearance. They are often described as cordate, meaning they resemble the shape of a heart. The leaves are typically smooth with slightly toothed or lobed edges. Winter Heliotrope leaves are known for their robust growth and can form dense ground cover.
The Winter Heliotrope is known for its pleasant and sweet fragrance. The small, pink or white flowers emit a delightful scent, contributing to the plant's appeal. The fragrance is often described as sweet and vanilla-like, making it a notable feature during the late winter to early spring when the flowers bloom.
Other Names:
Fragrant Butterbur, Sweet Coltsfoot.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Petasites fragrans, commonly known as "Sweet coltsfoot" or "Fragrant butterbur", is a species of herbaceous perennial plant that is native to China, Japan and Korea. It typically grows to be about 40 cm tall, with large, heart-shaped leaves that can reach up to 1 meter in diameter. It has small, white or pink flowers that bloom in the late winter or early spring, before the leaves appear. The plant is hardy and can tolerate cold temperatures and moist soils. Petasites fragrans is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscaping, it is also used for erosion control on rocky soils and for wildlife habitat restoration. It is tolerant of poor soils, dry conditions, and cold temperatures, and is often used in rock gardens and on slopes. It is also used in traditional medicine for the treatment of various diseases such as fever, cold, and headache.


Winter Heliotrope, or Petasites fragrans, is a beautiful and versatile plant that is native to Europe, but has become naturalized in many other parts of the world, including North America. This perennial plant is also known as Sweet Coltsfoot, and it is well-loved for its lovely white or pink flowers, its fragrant scent, and its many medicinal properties.

Appearance and Habitat

Winter Heliotrope is a low-growing plant that can reach up to 30 cm in height, with large, rounded leaves that can grow up to 30 cm in diameter. The plant is a member of the Asteraceae family, which also includes daisies and sunflowers. The flowers of Winter Heliotrope are small and delicate, and bloom in late winter or early spring, usually from January to April, depending on the climate.

Winter Heliotrope can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, meadows, and along riverbanks. It prefers moist, fertile soil and partial shade, and can often be found growing in areas with poor drainage.

Uses and Benefits

Winter Heliotrope has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a wide range of ailments, from headaches and fevers to respiratory problems and digestive issues. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and expectorant properties, and is often used to relieve coughs and congestion.

The plant also has a long history of use in aromatherapy, and its sweet, floral scent is thought to have a calming effect on the mind and body. Winter Heliotrope oil is often used in perfumes, soaps, and other beauty products for its lovely fragrance.

In addition to its medicinal and aromatic properties, Winter Heliotrope is also a valuable source of food for pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies. Its early-blooming flowers provide an important source of nectar and pollen for these insects during the lean winter months, when few other plants are in bloom.

Cultivation and Care

If you're interested in growing Winter Heliotrope in your own garden, there are a few things to keep in mind. The plant is easy to grow from seed or by dividing an existing plant, and it prefers well-draining soil and partial shade. It is also quite hardy and can tolerate cold temperatures, making it an excellent choice for gardens in colder climates.

However, it's important to note that Winter Heliotrope can be quite invasive, and can quickly take over an area if left unchecked. To prevent this from happening, it's best to grow the plant in a container or to plant it in an area where it can be easily controlled.

More Information about Winter Heliotrope

Winter Heliotrope has a fascinating history, and its uses and benefits have been recognized for centuries. In ancient times, the plant was used by the Romans to treat headaches and respiratory ailments, and it was also used as a culinary herb in medieval Europe. Today, Winter Heliotrope is still used in traditional medicine in many parts of the world, and is also widely cultivated for its ornamental and aromatic qualities.

One of the unique things about Winter Heliotrope is its ability to bloom in the winter months, when few other plants are in flower. This makes it a valuable source of food for pollinators, and it is often visited by bees and butterflies on sunny winter days. The plant is also known for its ability to tolerate pollution and other environmental stresses, making it a useful tool for phytoremediation and ecological restoration projects.

However, it's important to note that Winter Heliotrope can be quite invasive in certain areas, particularly in wetland habitats. In some parts of the world, the plant has become a serious pest and is considered a threat to native flora and fauna. As such, it's important to exercise caution when planting Winter Heliotrope, and to be mindful of its potential to spread.

In addition to its uses in traditional medicine and aromatherapy, Winter Heliotrope has also been studied for its potential as a source of natural compounds with pharmaceutical and industrial applications. Researchers have identified a number of bioactive compounds in the plant, including sesquiterpenes, flavonoids, and polyphenols, which have been shown to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

These compounds have been investigated for their potential in treating a range of health conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. Winter Heliotrope extracts have also been used as natural preservatives in food and cosmetic products, and as a source of natural dyes for textiles and other materials.

In addition to its practical uses, Winter Heliotrope is also valued for its aesthetic qualities. Its fragrant flowers, which bloom in shades of white and pale pink, can add a pop of color and a sweet scent to winter landscapes. Its large, heart-shaped leaves can also provide a lush and verdant backdrop for other plants.

Winter Heliotrope is relatively easy to grow, and can be propagated from seeds or by dividing mature plants. It prefers moist, well-draining soil and partial to full sun, although it can also tolerate shade. It can be grown as a groundcover or as a border plant, and can even be used as a natural weed suppressor.

If you're interested in growing Winter Heliotrope, it's important to be aware of its potential to become invasive. In areas where it is known to spread quickly and aggressively, it may be best to avoid planting it altogether. However, in other areas where its growth can be easily managed, it can be a beautiful and useful addition to any garden or landscape.

In conclusion, Winter Heliotrope is a fascinating and versatile plant with a long and storied history. From its medicinal properties and ecological benefits, to its aesthetic qualities and potential for use in pharmaceutical and industrial applications, this plant offers a wide range of benefits and uses. With care and attention, it can be a valuable addition to many different areas of life.

30 Winter Heliotrope Facts

While Winter Heliotrope may not be as well-known as some other plants, here are 30 interesting facts about this unique species:

  1. Scientific Name: Petasites fragrans is the botanical name for Winter Heliotrope.

  2. Origin: The plant is native to Western and Central Europe.

  3. Invasive Species: In some regions, Winter Heliotrope is considered invasive, spreading rapidly and outcompeting native vegetation.

  4. Early Bloomer: Winter Heliotrope is one of the few plants that bloom in late winter, often in January or February.

  5. Fragrance: The flowers emit a sweet and vanilla-like fragrance, contributing to its appeal.

  6. Heart-Shaped Leaves: The leaves are large and heart-shaped, a distinctive feature of the plant.

  7. Ground Cover: Winter Heliotrope is known for forming dense ground cover, especially in moist areas.

  8. Rhizomatous Growth: The plant spreads through rhizomes, which are underground stems.

  9. Herbal Medicine: Some traditional herbal medicine practices use parts of the plant for various purposes.

  10. No Edible Parts: While used in herbal medicine, Winter Heliotrope is not generally considered edible.

  11. Pollination: The flowers attract pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

  12. Cultivation: It can be challenging to control, making it a resilient plant in cultivation.

  13. Gardening Challenges: Due to its invasive nature, it may pose challenges for gardeners seeking to control its spread.

  14. Winter-Hardy: As the name suggests, it is well adapted to cold winter conditions.

  15. Naturalized in North America: It has naturalized in parts of North America, where it may be considered invasive.

  16. Adaptable to Different Soils: Winter Heliotrope can grow in a variety of soil types, including clay and loam.

  17. Height: The plant can reach a height of up to 30 cm (12 inches).

  18. Shade Tolerance: It can tolerate partial shade but also thrives in sunny locations.

  19. Mild Toxicity: Some parts of the plant may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic if ingested in large quantities.

  20. Landscape Use: It is sometimes used in landscaping for its ability to provide ground cover.

  21. Management Strategies: Controlling Winter Heliotrope may require diligent management practices due to its spreading nature.

  22. Habitat Disturbance: It often colonizes areas with disturbed soil, such as construction sites.

  23. Traditional Medicinal Uses: Historically, the plant has been used to treat various ailments, including respiratory issues.

  24. Leaves and Flowers: Both leaves and flowers have been used in traditional medicine.

  25. Butterfly Larval Host: It serves as a host plant for some butterfly species.

  26. Leaf Size: The leaves can grow up to 40 cm (16 inches) in diameter.

  27. Natural Predators: Some insects and animals may feed on Winter Heliotrope, helping to control its population.

  28. Soil Moisture: While adaptable, it prefers moist or damp soil conditions.

  29. Tolerant of Flooding: It can withstand temporary flooding, making it suitable for areas with fluctuating water levels.

  30. Environmental Impact: Invasive populations of Winter Heliotrope can impact native plant communities and alter ecosystems.

Understanding these facts provides insight into the ecological role and characteristics of Winter Heliotrope, both in its native habitat and in areas where it has become invasive.


Winter Heliotrope filmed at Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales on the 26th November 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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