Petasites frigidus (Sweet Coltsfoot)

Plant Info
Also known as: Artic Sweet Coltsfoot, Arctic Butterbur, Palmate Sweet Coltsfoot, Arrow-leaved Sweet Coltsfoot, Grape-leaved Sweet Coltsfoot
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist to wet; meadows, woods, swampy places
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:6 to 24 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: raceme Cluster type: round

[photo of female flowers] A round topped cluster, 3 to 4 inches across, of creamy white to pinkish flower heads on a sturdy, erect stem emerges from the ground well before the leaves. Plants are mostly dioecious (either male or female) though some heads may be mixed. Female flowers have 2 to 140 short rays (petals), depending on the variety.

[photo of male flowers] Male flowers have dozens of thread-like petals mixed with stamens, all about the same length. The heads are ½ to ¾ inch across on long stalks, those in the center of the cluster are shorter stalked and develop before the outer flowers and those lower on the stem. Bracts are often purplish or purple tipped.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of stem leaves] Leaves on the flower stem are narrowly lance shaped and stalkless becoming smaller, bract-like in the flower cluster. Like the stem and flower stalks they are sparsely hairy that diminishes with age. Basal leaves emerge directly from underground colonial root system in coarse rosettes, typically off to the side of flowering stems on a sturdy, upright stalk (petiole). These leaves are generally large, up to 15 inches across though those we've observed in Minnesota are typically half this size or less.

[photo of leaf underside (var. X vitifolius)]] The leaf stalk and undersides are densely covered with white, woolly hairs (tomentose), especially when younger, the upper surface sparsely hairy becoming smoother with age. The shape is highly variable as per the three recognized varieties; broadly arrowhead shaped (var. sagittatus), those round in outline with 5 to 11 deep sinuses with the finger lobes also lobed (var. palmatus), and forms midway between these two with broader, shallower lobes (var. X vitifolius). The blades can be quite wavy and the edges range from smooth to coarsely and sharply toothed.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of fruit] The fruit or seed heads have long, silky, white hairs on the seeds giving the cluster an appearance of a dense ball of cotton when mature.


Sweet Coltsfoot is an early riser in northern Minnesota and, in spite of large colonies when other vegetation has yet to emerge, they are often overlooked due in part to the shorter stature of the flower cluster at a time when fewer people are out and about. The seed heads develop quickly and they become more noticeable getting up to a full 24 inches, with their large cottony heads and large colonies of silver, leathery leaves.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Beltrami, Cass, Kittson and Roseau counties, MN, and in Washington state. Photo by Eugene Reimer ©2003 Photo by James Gaither licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Victoria - Morrison County
on: 2014-01-23 21:29:31

Definitely have seen it in Morrison County around Little Falls. Had no idea about the variety. I'll look next growing season.

Posted by: Jane - west central St. Louis County
on: 2015-05-10 21:15:34

I have the palmatus a wooded, shady area. Anxious to see if they come up early this year.

Posted by: Deane - east of Bigfork, by Deer Lake
on: 2015-05-10 22:50:57

Spotted by my son today, and few basal leaves coming up nearby looked like var. palmatus. I have seen them on the first part of the Dr. Roberts Trail in Itasca State Park in the past.

Posted by: Shannon - Itasca State Park - by the Mississippi River
on: 2016-05-03 12:50:03

Found these on the back trail leading away from the Headwaters. Very pretty little flowers, although something had eaten the leaves entirely away.

Posted by: Terry S - St Louis, Carlton, Aitkin Counties
on: 2017-08-17 08:16:20

I notice that, consistently, in the willow carrs project that I am currently working on, Petasites frigidus var. sagittatus is consistently and frequently found in low-lying, wet places ... often on tussocks or hummocks with a lot of standing water between. Petasites frigidus var. frigidus has *only* been seen on the upland inclusions.

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