But that’s a butterbur sighting…


First of all, a big thank you to all who got in touch to tell me about their spring snowflakes. Unfortunately, most were in gardens and are not considered as wild botanical records, but there was one report of a huge colony in the Kelso area which is being investigated. Watch this space!

I can hardly believe its only March and here I am writing about my second plant discovery of the year. Last week, I was walking up my usual riverside walk with the dog, when I stopped to watch some goosanders fishing on the river. I was about to move on when I noticed several white flowers, round and about the size of a tennis ball, poking through the silt.

I had seen them elsewhere in a similar riverside habitat and knew immediately that they were white butterbur. They were right beside the path, which I walk almost daily and have done for years, yet somehow they escaped my notice. Like other butterburs, the flowers appear before the leaves, so it made counting them very easy. Amazingly, I counted 105 blooms over quite a large area, right down to the water’s edge.

I know of a couple of other colonies on the Tweed, one on Yarrow and one on the Ettrick, which I think has been washed away by recent erosion, so it was great to discover a new location, which was unknown to the county’s botanical recorder.

This native of the mountains of Europe and south-west Asia was introduced in 1683 but was not recorded in the wild until 1843. It has now spread throughout with a heavier concentration in the north particularly in eastern Scotland. The native or common butterbur is a familiar sight along stream sides and in wet places and is easily recognised by its huge flat rhubarb-like leaves. It has the largest leaves of all of our indigenous plants. Its flowers are pinkish, and they too appear before the leaves, but are a bit later than the white variety. As kids we used to call it Paddy’s rhubarb and it provided a great place to hide. The name butterbur comes from the ancient use of its leaves for wrapping butter in warm weather. It has various medicinal qualities and is said to be a remedy for migraine and hay fever.

The common coltsfoot is a close relative and its yellow dandelion-like flowers precede the appearance of leaves and it too favours habitats close to water.