The fabulous, huge-leafed perennial above to the left side of the ferns and Caladium 'Aaron' is a creature called Petasites japonicus, commonly known as the Japanese butterbur. This shot I took last June when the leaves, considered giant compared to our temperate northeastern perennial palette, are looking their best, growing 2-3 feet in diameter atop straight, textured stems 3-4 feet in height. However, the leaves of this sun-to-shade tolerant, wet ground lover won't be out for months still so it was furthest from my mind when recently I came across this little find and wondered what it was.
For me the amazing thing about horticulture is that you are always learning and discovering new things about the natural world. Even in the same garden every year you are going to discover new aspects to plants you didn't realize before. So I was looking at these crazy cabbagey looking things for a while before a coworker pointed out the obvious, that they were the flowers of the Petasites.
For years I would include the butterbur on garden tours because people would always be so happily surprised that such a large flowered beast was truly perennial for us here in lower New York. I would show people the raised enclosed bed in which this stand is planted, showing them the natural wet seep that feeds the area it's constant moisture and the benefit to keeping the plant enclosed since it can easily run amok if not hemmed in by a formidable barrier. Inevitably a few would ask the one question I didn't completely know the answer to and I'd try and hide the cringe. "Does it flower?"
Being an angiosperm, I knew the plant by definition did flower but I had to admit I had never seen it, and only knew the plant for it's stunning foliage display. Luckily now I can say that I have, and though not what you might expect, they are a real sight to behold. Here's the gratuitous macro "hort porn" close up. What a cool looking thing indeed - click to enlarge!