Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Purple Butterbur

This is a Japanese perennial.  Fuki to them, butterbur to us.  (No one explains the "butterbur" thing satisfactorily.  Yes, the leaves are big enough to diaper a baby, let alone wrap butter.  But why would you wrap butter in them in the first place?  What are the paper-substitute needs of the butter-wrapping public anyway?) 

 

Just about the entire plant is edible, if mothball-like flavors are what make your tastebuds sing.  I just grow it for these wonderfully-weird April flowers—who knew that any aster relative could look so strange?—and the lotus-like leaves that follow. 

 

petasites-japonicus-purpureus-blooms-w-my-hand-640

 

 

The leaves appear separately from the flowers, and a bit later, too. 

 

petasites-japonicus-purpureus-leaves-640

 

These two-inch purple juveniles will expand in May into foot-wide overlapping disks.  They make a smothering groundcover that is woe to any nearby weed as well as any ornamental.  Butterbur rhizomes are barely an inch underground, though, so the colony can be controlled almost by hand-yanking alone.

 

But back to the peak of the moment: the flowers.  On six-inch stalks, the flowers are still just at ankle level.  But they are easy to cut, and last a week and more in a vase.

 

petasites-japonicus-purpureus-w-my-hand-close-640

 

On the mantel, they're finally close enough to study, and to sniff.  Any fragrance, even in the comparative warmth indoors?  Nada. 

 

petasites-japonicus-purpureus-on-the-mantel-640

 

But the tiny flowers are at last in view.  Tiny TINY five-petalled little tulips, barely a couple of millimeters across, in tight button-wide clusters of a couple of dozen.  And what a contrast: Leaves that could scarcely be huger, with flowers that could scarcely be smaller.  Who knows, let alone can understand, what inspires plants to grow to these extremes?  One answer, appropriate to these conspiracy-theory times:  "Of course we can't understand, you ninny.  They're aliens."  

 

 

petasites-japonicus-purpureus-flowers-ultra-close-640

 

Without a fragrance, and at such minute size, what cool-weather pollinator are these flowers courting?  I never see anything buzzing around these them, poor things.  And indeed, the flowers don't mature to seeds.  But that's also because the plants are dioicious—separately sexed—and it's the male plants produce the spherical flowerheads that pop up in my driveway each April.  (The flowers of female plants are in taller and narrower array.)

 

My colony, then, is entirely male; conceivably the purple-leaved cultivar itself is entirely male.  Indeed, I've never heard of butterbur blooming with anything else but the compound-eye flowers.  Are all the Petasites in North America male? 

 

Whether from lack of pollinators or lack of females, Petasites doesn't set seed for me.  So I only need to control my colony by digging up rhizomes.  Want some?  Please be in touch.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow Japanese butterbur:

 

Latin Name

Petasites japonicus 'Purpureus'

Common Name

Purple-leaved butterbur

Family

Asteraceae, the daisy family

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy flowering perennial groundcover for damp soil or even shallow water.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9

Habit

Dense round-leaved growth to nearly two feet.  Wide-spreading unless controlled (which is easy).

Rate of Growth


Fast.

Size in ten years

Without control, and in wet rich soil, a colony fifteen feet wide and more.

Texture

Dense and full.

Grown for

Purple-flushed round leaves, almost water-lily-like in shape, overlap to form a weed-proof groundcover.  Early-Spring spheres of clusters of tiny off-white flowers, on short stalks emerging like periscopes directly from bare ground, are curious more than beautiful but all the more interesting for it. 

Flowering season

Very early Spring

Culture

Any soil as long as there's plenty of moisture.  Welcomes full sun only when grown in a bog or pond-side setting.  Handles shade well (again, provided there's enough moisture).  Sun or shade, will grow out into shallow water.

How to handle it

Very wide-spreading rhizomes are, thankfully, very shallow and easy to pull up to control growth.  That said, site butterbur where everything else nearby is much taller, like shrubs and trees.

Downsides

Not suitable near smaller perennials. 

Variants

There's a variegated cultivar with yellow-splashed leaves, an all-green giant with leaves a yard across on stems to six feet tall, and a much smaller all-gold cut-leaf variety.

Availability

At specialty retailers, and on-line.

Propagation

Division of the roots at almost any time.

Native habitat

Japan


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!

 

Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:

 

* indicates required