A count of the number of Butterbur flower spikes on Brook Meadow has been done each year from 1999, usually in late March before they get buried beneath the surrounding vegetation. All the Brook Meadow plants are male. The nearest female plants are on the Langbrook Stream at Langstone. They propagate by underground rhizomes.
Most plants grow in the area immediately below the main seat
Annual Butterbur count – 23rd March 2020
I took my time for the count and found most of the spurs, though many were quite tiny and partly hidden among the burgeoning vegetation, whereas others were large and getting old and worn.
As I suspected, the total count of 198 was way down on recent years which have been consistently over 500; last year’s count was 794 and the all time record was 1,150 in 2013. As shown in the following chart, this year’s total was the lowest I have ever recorded over 20 years of counting.
Butterbur grow in several areas of the meadow, but the largest drop was in the largest area immediately below the main seat which fell to 147 from 704 last year. The smaller Butterbur sites, on the river bank, south meadow and east causeway were much the same as before.
So what has happened? There has been no special conservation work on the main Butterbur area which could account for this change. Weather is an obvious cause. This winter has been warm and wet, but I can see no obvious reason why this should disadvantage our native Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) – which are all male plants and which propagate and spread though underground rhizomes. If anyone has any idea please let me know.