Western Isles Wildflowers
Western Isles wildflowers is a collection of information about our Hebridean wildflowers including identification hints, traditional herbal uses and general plant lore.
Gaelic name: Gallan Mòr Cùbhraidh
Winter Heliotrope is of the Aster family. (Asteraceae)
The genus, Petasites, come from the Greek word petasos, which is the word for the felt hats worn by shepherds, relating to the leaves of the winter heliotrope which are are large enough to be used as a head-covering and felt-like.
These large green, leathery leaves block light from reaching the ground beneath them, effectively suppressing any potentially competive plant growth.
Heliotrope means sun-turning, the name for any plant that turns to face the sun. After opening the Winter Heliotrope gradually turns from the east to the west and
during the night turns again to the east to meet the rising sun.
This European herb has vanilla-scented white-pink flowers, hence the latin name fragrans.
This plant grows in the Castle Grounds in Stornoway, it is an introduced plant to the Western Isles, and native to the Western Mediterranean area. (North Africa)
Winter Heliotrope was introduced to the UK in 1806.
In some countries such as Australia Winter Heliotrope grows so abundantly as a weed that is a candidate species for preventative control. Winter Heliotrope has a very deeply growing rhizome and also propagates by seed, which makes it difficult to control the plant's spread.
The plant is similar to immature butterbur in appearance of both flowers and leaves, however the butterbur flowers in April, whereas Winter Heliotrope flowers in January and February.
Flowering early, the Winter Heliotrope is an insect plant, providing one of the first pollen sources in the year. There are records of the plant being deliberately introduced beside beehives to provide a nectar-source for the early emerging bees.
Along with eyebright, cornflowers and plantain, Winter Heliotrope is an ingredient of a commercially produced Swiss herbal tea, said to help the eyes in situations such as soreness from dust, or to ease the eyestrain sometiimes suffered by computer users.
Other names of Winter Heliotrope
Winter Heliotrope is also known as sweet-scented coltsfoot, or sweet coltsfoot.
Photograph © Suzanne Harris
Stornoway - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
Top photograph and leaf 3rd January, 2007
Lower photograph, winter heliotrope in full flower and more than 12 inches tall 7th March, 2007