Wandering around Penarth yesterday it was hard not to notice this plant growing on steep slopes below the sea cliffs. Immediately I thought it was Butterbur; a plant that I associate with roadsides, that flowers early in the year and produces large leaves through the summer. Part of me was thinking however this is very early for Butterbur and I was also struck by its intense fragrance, but then it was late in the day and who knows what flowers by the sea!
Anyway today I had a closer look and Streeter straight away alerted me to the range of Butterbur like plants (members of the Petasites family), something that I had not really paid much attention to before. So this was not Butterbur Petasites hybridus that I had seen before but P fragrans. The Latin name gives it away really as does the flowering time as P fragrans flowers from November through the winter and it is strongly vanilla scented.
With P fragrans the outer ray florets are strap shaped, the inner florets five lobed with a dark purple centre from which emerges a stamen (apparently there are only male plants in this country). The basal leaves are also present while the plant is in flower.
So I have learnt not to assume anything, even what I thought was an open and shut case like the Butterbur is not as straightforward as it first seems.