On a roadside near you!
I would put money on the fact that, unless you live in the wilds of Scotland, there will be a patch of Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) not far from where you are currently sitting - and it will most probably be found on a roadside verge. It is one of the few true winter flowerers, as opposed to the many, many species that are currently in bloom due to the ridiculously mild winter temperatures that we are experiencing. It acts as a good source of nectar for those hardy insects that are currently on the wing and, although not exhibiting a particularly showy flower, it is a most welcome sight in the middle of winter. But not everybody agrees…
It is considered an invasive pest in some quarters. The Guardian newspaper says it "has attractive, fragrant, mauve flowers early in the year, but later in spring turns into a large-leaved monster, forming colonies along waysides.” Blimey! The species was first recorded ‘in the wild’ in 1835, having no doubt escaped from some garden close by, where they were originally planted as ornamental ground cover. Dumped soil, containing the heliotropes rhizomes, acts as its means of spreading. The female plant is unknown in the UK, so the onward march of this plant is aided primarily by municipal clearing of the grass verges that it so loves, the cutting up of the rhizomes, and their subsequent accidental redistribution. It is difficult to eradicate once established.
The first thing you will notice are the large, rounded heart-shaped leaves, being almost lime green in colour, fresh enough to jump out from the sad winter palette that surrounds it. It lifts my spirits whenever I come across it -and if you find any, take a moment out and have a sniff. It smells quite honeyed. The picture above was taken on Epsom Downs a couple of days ago. This patch has spread out from its original earth bank home and into the neighbouring woodland.