GIANT BUTTERBUR

Petasites japonicus

Daisy & Dandelion Family [Asteraceae]

Flowers:
month8feb month8mar month8march month8apr month8april

Pappus: pappusZpossible (white)
pappus8apr pappus8april pappus8may pappus8jun pappus8june

status
statusZneophyte
 
flower
flower8cream
 
inner
inner8yellow
 
morph
morph8actino
 
petals
petalsZ5
 
petals
petalsZmany
 
type
typeZclustered
 
stem
stem8round
 
smell
smell8fragrant
fragrant
toxicity
toxicityZlowish
 
sex
sexZdioecious
 

3rd March 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © Robert Lavin
Patch-forming perennial growing in dampish ground where only much later do large numerous kidney-shaped leaves (not shown here - but up to a metre across and similar in shape and size to those of Butterbur) shade out competing plants.


20th Jan 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © RWD
In its early stages it can look similar to a Cauliflower, all curled up into a ball and surrounded by 15 or more over-lapping thick leaf-like bracts.


20th Jan 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © RWD
The outer leaf-like scales are terminated by a small heart-shaped 'spade' but this soon withers off (several shown above).


20th Jan 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © RWD
Emergent specimens may look similar to White Butterbur, but again the leaf-like scales, which are pale green, are numerous, and wide betray it. This is only a young plant, it will grow taller up to a metre high.


3rd March 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © Robert Lavin
Another month has elapsed and they show no sign of growing to its ultimate height of 90 - 100cm. Leaf-like scales are pale green. Flowers similar to those of white-flowering versions of Butterbur


20th Jan 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © RWD
From above a young specimen looks similar to an open cauliflower, but the leaf-like scales are broad and pale green.


20th Jan 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © RWD
The flowers most resemble those of a white-flowered specimen of Butterbur rather than those of White Butterbur where the flowers have white protrusions. Stem thick, with broad stubby leaf-like scales peeling off at intervals. Stem later elongates to 1m, hence the 'giant' moniker.


20th Jan 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © RWD
Flowers in clusters, cream to white, with short 5-star 'petals' - these being the rather large disc-florets.


3rd March 2012, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld, Keswick Photo: © Robert Lavin
Flowers in bunches of bunches.


Not to be confused with : Great Butterwort [a plant with similar name]

Some similarities to : Cauliflower and White Butterbur when small, but grows much taller than either.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature :

When small it resembles a cauliflower, but grows to 1m when mature, with several stubby and broad pale-green leaves (actually bracts) emerging at intervals from a stout pale-green stem. The flowers are cream to white, and when fully grown are presented in clusters rather like an 'umbel' at the top of the stalk, quite un-like the spike of flowers on the otherwise similar Butterbur. The flowers themselves (with their 5 white petals) more resemble the flowers of a white-flowered specimen of Butterbur rather than those of White Butterbur.

Can be grown as a garden plant. Grows on wet soggy ground. Occurrence is sporadic across the UK as shown by the distribution map, with a slight preference for the SE. It is a non-native invasive plant which shades out competing plants. First arrived in the UK as a horticultural plant in 1897 it escaped in 1924 and has been spreading ever since. It spreads by underground rhizomes in damp or wettish places along the sides of streams, along roads, in plantations and in both open and shady places. Like Butterbur and Colt's-foot the large kidney-shaped leaves which shade out competing species only form later in the season when the plant is up to a metre high. Like Butterbur and Colt's-foot, it flowers very early in the season, from about mid-January to April; the giant leaves only forming afterwards when other plants would like to start growing.

All Butterburs including this one are dioecious, with male and female flowers appearing on separate plants.

FURANO-SESQUITERPENOIDS / BENZOFURANONES


Furanoligularenone is a Benzofuranone and an Eremophilane (or more strictly a Furano-Eremophilane) found in a few members of the Daisy & Dandelion Family of plants, including Giant Butterbur. It has anti-inflammatory effects.

Furanofukinol is another Benzofuranone and Furano-eremophilanes which is found in the rhizomes of Giant Butterbur. Furanofukinol gains its unusual name from the name of the plant in Japan; Fuki, where it is native and used as a vegetable (after pre-treating with baking soda and soaking in water, which removes most of the astringency and poisonous pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Two other Furano-eremophilanes occur in Butterbur, (Petasites hybridus).

PYRROLIZIDINE ALKALOIDS

Petasitenine (aka Fukinotoxin) (not to be confused with Petasinine, which is another much simpler pyrrolizidine alkaloid) is a pyrrolizidine alkaloid isolated from the young flower stalks of Giant Butterbur and is poisonous, resulting in necrosis, haemorrhage and proliferation of bile ducts within the liver of laboratory test rats after drinking a 0.05% solution of this alkaloid, which was their drinking water. They all died. Of those drinking a weaker 0.01% solution only 2 out of 10 animals died within 160 days, developing tumours in the liver. The high toxicity is probably due to the energetic 3-membered ring epoxy group. Petasitenine is also present in Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)

[Note that one dictionary of substances has the methyl group at the middle-top attached instead to the carbon atom just right of the three-membered O-ring - which is probably in-correct - most other sources place it as shown here]


  Petasites japonicus  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Asteraceae  

Distribution
 family8Daisy & Dandelion family8Asteraceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Petasites
Petasites
(Butterburs)

GIANT BUTTERBUR

Petasites japonicus

Daisy & Dandelion Family [Asteraceae]