Winter Heliotrope Petasites fragrans

☠ Toxic to humans
🐾 Toxic to pets
🌸 Blooming
🍪 Not edible
‍🌱 Easy-care
winter heliotrope


The winter heliotrope, as commonly called, is a perennial plant known for its distinct and pleasing fragrance. Its appearance is characterized by a rosette of large, heart-shaped leaves that are typically green with a somewhat leathery texture. The leaves may have a felt-like underside due to the presence of fine hairs. This plant yields flowers that appear in the colder months of the year, which is somewhat unusual among flowering plants. The flowers themselves are small and clustered on spikes, with a creamy-white to pinkish color. The flowers are notable for their sweet, vanilla-like scent that can be quite strong and is one of the most distinctive features of the winter heliotrope. While the plant does spread through its rhizomes underground and can form sizable colonies, the spreading nature and specific measurements including its reach horizontally or vertically are not to be discussed.

Plant Info
Common Problems

About this plant

  • memoNames

    • Synonyms

      Winter Heliotrope, Sweet Colt's-foot, Fragrant Butterbur, Sweet-scented Coltsfoot.

    • Common names

      Petasites pyrenaicus, Tussilago fragrans.

  • skullToxicity

    • To humans

      Winter heliotrope contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic to the liver if consumed in significant quantities. These compounds have the potential to cause cumulative liver damage and may result in symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and in severe cases, lead to liver failure. Long-term ingestion can also increase the risk of developing cancers of the liver. It is important to avoid consuming any part of winter heliotrope to prevent these possible health consequences.

    • To pets

      Winter heliotrope is also toxic to pets due to its content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are harmful to the liver. The ingestion of any part of the plant by pets might lead to similar symptoms as in humans, including vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and jaundice as indicative of liver damage. Chronic exposure could lead to severe liver failure and potentially increase the risk of liver cancers. It is crucial to prevent pets from ingesting winter heliotrope to avoid these health issues.

  • infoCharacteristics

    • Life cycle


    • Foliage type


    • Color of leaves


    • Flower color


    • Height

      2 feet (0.61 meters)

    • Spread

      5 feet (1.52 meters)

    • Plant type


    • Hardiness zones


    • Native area



  • money-bagGeneral Benefits

    • Ornamental value: Petasites fragrans, commonly known as winter heliotrope, is often used in gardens for its cluster of attractive, fragrant flowers that can add beauty to the landscape.
    • Early flowering: Winter heliotrope blooms in the late winter and early spring, providing early nectar sources for pollinators such as bees when few other plants are in flower.
    • Erosion control: With its spreading habit and robust growth, winter heliotrope can help stabilize soil in areas prone to erosion.
    • Shade tolerance: Winter heliotrope can tolerate shady conditions, making it a suitable ground cover for woodland gardens or shaded areas.
    • Fast growth: The plant grows quickly and can cover large areas, making it useful for landscaping projects that require fast coverage.

  • medicalMedical Properties

    • Anti-inflammatory: Petasites hybridus (a close relative commonly known as butterbur) has been used to reduce inflammation.
    • Antispasmodic: It may help relax smooth muscles and reduce spasms in the body.
    • Antihistamine: Has been used to combat allergic reactions as it might exhibit antihistamine effects.
    • Migraine prevention: Extracts from butterbur (Petasites hybridus) has been used to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches.
    Please note that the use of Petasites fragrans specifically for medical purposes is not well-documented and its use can be questionable. Reference to the medical uses of Petasites hybridus (butterbur) has been made due to the close relation within the Petasites genus and the better-documented medicinal uses of that species. Always consult with a healthcare provider before using any herbal remedies.

  • windAir-purifying Qualities

    This plant is not specifically known for air purifying qualities.

  • leavesOther Uses

    • Petasites fragrans, commonly known as Winter Heliotrope, can serve as a natural dye source, the leaves and roots potentially yielding shades of brown and yellow for textile coloring.
    • The large leaves of the Winter Heliotrope can be used as natural wraps for preserving cheese, similar to how grape leaves are used in some culinary traditions.
    • Insect repellant properties due to its fragrant nature can make the Winter Heliotrope useful when planted around outdoor seating areas to deter flies and mosquitoes.
    • The fibrous stems of the plant can be twisted or braided to create natural cordage for garden use, such as tying back other more delicate plants.
    • The Winter Heliotrope can be utilized for craft purposes, with its leaves being pressed and used in floral arrangements or as part of herbarium collections.
    • Companion planting with Winter Heliotrope may have benefits for certain vegetables by attracting beneficial insects or providing ground cover to maintain soil moisture.
    • Fragrance extraction from the flowers of Winter Heliotrope can be used in making perfumes, potpourris, or scented sachets for drawers and closets.
    • Due to its rapid growth and spreading habit, Winter Heliotrope can be used for erosion control on banks and slopes where other vegetation is hard to establish.
    • The plant's rhizomes may be used in basket weaving or as a material for creating lightweight crafts, taking advantage of their length and strength once dried.
    • Winter Heliotrope can be cultivated as an ornamental ground cover in gardens, providing green foliage during the winter months in mild climates.

Interesting Facts

  • bedFeng Shui

    The Winter Heliotrope is not used in Feng Shui practice.

  • aquariusZodiac Sign Compitability

    The Winter Heliotrope is not used in astrology practice.

  • spiralPlant Symbolism

    • Perseverance: Petasites fragrans, commonly known as Winter Heliotrope, often blooms in the winter months, symbolizing the ability to endure and thrive even in harsh conditions.
    • Healing: Historically used for its medicinal properties, Winter Heliotrope can represent the healing of both physical and emotional wounds.
    • Protection: With its large leaves, Winter Heliotrope can signify shelter and protection from external harm.
    • Adaptation: The plant's vigorous growth in a variety of conditions highlights adaptability and resilience in changing environments.

Every week
2500 - 10000 Lux
Every year
Early spring
Not needed
  • water dropWater

    Winter heliotrope, also known as Petasites fragrans, prefers consistently moist soil, so it requires regular watering. It is often recommended to water this plant once every week with about 1-2 gallons per watering session, depending on climate conditions and soil drainage. During the hotter seasons or in very dry climates, the frequency might need to be increased to maintain soil moisture. Over-watering should be avoided, as this can lead to root rot, so it’s important to check the soil moisture before adding more water. During winter, when the plant is not actively growing, water less frequently, but do not allow the soil to completely dry out.

  • sunLight

    Winter heliotrope thrives best in partial shade where it can receive indirect light. It is well-suited to a spot that offers morning sun and afternoon shade, or dappled sunlight throughout the day. The plant can also adapt to full shade conditions, making it a versatile option for garden spots that don't receive intense direct sunlight.

  • thermometerTemperature

    Winter heliotrope can survive a range of temperatures but grows best when the temperature is between 40 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It is hardy to a minimum of around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but prolonged exposure to temperatures below this can damage the plant. The ideal temperature range for robust growth is cool to moderate, reflecting the plant's preference for temperate climates.

  • scissorsPruning

    Winter heliotrope should be pruned to remove spent flowers and to control its spread, as it can become invasive. Pruning is best done in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. The plant can be cut back quite hard if necessary, but regular trimming to maintain shape and size is often sufficient.

  • broomCleaning

    As needed

  • bambooSoil

    Winter heliotrope thrives in moist, well-drained soil with high organic matter. The best soil mix for winter heliotrope should consist of equal parts loam, peat, and sharp sand to ensure proper drainage and fertility. The soil pH for this plant should be slightly acidic to neutral, ranging from 6.0 to 7.0.

  • plantRepotting

    Winter heliotrope should be repotted every 2-3 years or when it becomes root-bound. It's best to repot in the spring before the growing season begins, using fresh soil mix to replenish nutrients and allow room for root growth.

  • water dropsHumidity & Misting

    Winter heliotrope prefers high humidity levels, around 60-70%. Such conditions mimic its natural habitat and contribute to healthy growth and foliage development. If indoor air is dry, a regular misting or a pebble tray with water can help maintain the desired humidity.

  • pinSuitable locations

    • Indoor

      Place winter heliotrope near a window for light, keep soil moist.

    • Outdoor

      Plant winter heliotrope in partial shade and keep soil consistently moist.

    • Hardiness zone

      6-9 USDA

  • circleLife cycle

    Petasites fragrans, commonly known as winter heliotrope, begins its life cycle when seeds germinate in moist, well-drained soil in partial to full shade. After germination, the plant develops a rosette of rounded, heart-shaped leaves on long petioles. Winter heliotrope spreads primarily vegetatively through its creeping rhizomes, which give rise to new shoots and clusters of leaves. In late winter to early spring, before the new leaves fully develop, it produces fragrant pinkish-purple flowers clustered on short, upright stems. After pollination, typically by insects attracted to the scent, the flowers develop into small, dry, and winged fruits that are dispersed by wind. Over time, a single plant can form large colonies, dominating the habitat and potentially outcompeting native vegetation.

  • sproutPropogation

    • Propogation time

      Early spring

    • Winter Heliotrope can be propagated most commonly through division, a method that involves separating an established plant into multiple parts that each have roots and shoots. The ideal time to divide Winter Heliotropes is in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. To carry out division, one should dig up an existing clump of the plant and use a sharp spade or knife to cut the clump into smaller sections, ensuring each has some roots and at least one growing point. These divisions can then be replanted into prepared soil maintaining a spacing of about 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) between plants, allowing enough space for the new plants to grow. Water the new plantings well to help establish them, and they should start growing as separate plants shortly.