What's the difference?

Last weekend while I was cleaning up the pond, I realized there was something weird about the Petasites japonicus plants I have at the water's edge. No, not that they bloom with (or before) the crocus and daffodils -- that's a bit strange but not unusual for these plants -- that's what they do.

The weird thing was that the flowers are not all the same. In fact, they're so different that I'd even suggest that I've got two different species growing here. (Compare blooms on the right to those on the left.)


Before I get more into that, a little backstory. Even before I built the pond I was interested in this plant, commonly called "Japanese butterbur". It's huge leaves attracted me, as I'm always looking for large-leaved plants to complement the tiny leaves of the bamboos.

I knew Brad at Needmore Bamboo had a large patch of this growing, and when my efforts to find some locally failed I bugged him to send me a rhizome. As it happens with many plant trades (or flat-out gifts) timing is everything, and one of my "reminders" to Brad about still wanting this plant arrived at just about the time Brad was doing some digging around his patch. So I finally got this plant!

The second part of this story seems to be a common one for me. Whenever I have a hard time finding a plant I really want -- nobody I know grows it locally, I can't find it at the nearby garden centers -- as soon as I order it from some faraway nursery I start seeing it everywhere around me.  (Okay, maybe not every time, but it happens a lot it seems. Is it just me?) The same thing happened with the Petasites: shortly after I got the plant from Brad, I was offered several divisions from a local gardener (my friend Mike).

The point of all of this explanation is that I have Petasites japonicus from two different sources in my garden. I interplanted them, with Brad's between two of the divisions from Mike. I did notice a slight difference in the leaves of Brad's plant when compared to Mike's last summer, but from a distance they looked identical.

Now though, it's obvious that something is different about them.

The flowers from Brad's plant are tall and full:

The bees love them too!

The blooms of Mike's plants though, well, they're much less attractive (if the others can even be described as "attractive"):

They're close to the ground, smaller, not very full, and the bees don't seem to be visiting.

Plus there are already leaves starting to emerge on Brad's plant, but nothing on Mike's yet.

So are these just two different forms of the same species, or are they different but similar species entirely? Or maybe Mike's plants just need a little more time to mature?

If you have any insight on this or grow this plant, I'd love to hear what you think.


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Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax!  – (March 29, 2013 at 2:43 PM)  

Extraordinary plants. Haven't come across them before.

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