Wild Ranunculus

Posted : admin On 1/29/2022

Last June, all my blog entries were about water-saving gardening. I’m going to carry on the tradition (if repeating something once can be called a tradition) and dedicate my June posts this year to garden practices that save water. To me, one of the most obvious ways of saving water is using plants who already know how to survive on the free water you’re already getting – your own beautiful natives.

I have a special fondness for this common wildflower, which I’ve know for many years. It’s the kind of feeling that prompted the Pilgrims to slip in a few flowers amongst their strictly utilitarian vegetable and herb seeds. They carried the comfort of their common dooryard and meadow flowers to this unknown land, flowers like heartsease (Viola tricolor) and dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis). These weren’t the big glamorous garden flowers of today; they were homely ambassadors of modest beauty: the field and hedge flowers of their native landscapes. These personal loves spoke through even all that Puritan guilt and utilitarian duty.

Wild Ranunculus

Bloom And Wild Ranunculus

That’s the way I feel about buttercups: they’re not conspicuous, or glamorous, or productive in any obvious way, but I love them. And, I have to say, I purely detest the large swollen ranunculus relatives in the bulb catalogues, swamped in their multiple folds.

.PLEASE NOTE: This print is a reproduction and does not include any real plants or flowers. This listing is for a PRINT, UNFRAMED, of an original artwork featuring pressed plant material. A collection of darling yellow buttercups is reproduced from a high-resolution scan on high quality, 100%. Ranunculus is a genus of about 600 species of plants in the Ranunculaceae. Members of the genus include the buttercups, spearworts, water crowfoots and the lesser celandine. List of species A. Species & Synonyms Common Names Native Range Illustration Ranunculus abaensis W.T.Wang. Ranunculus is a genus of plants that includes approximately 600 species of flowering plants. It includes the common buttercup that grows wild throughout the U.S. But the cultivated variety (Ranunculus ‘asiaticus’), commonly referred to as Persian buttercups, produces large showy blooms that. Subordinate Taxa. The Plants Database includes the following 93 species of Ranunculus. Click below on a thumbnail map or name for species profiles. Native Introduced Native and Introduced. Ranunculus abortivus. Littleleaf buttercup. Ranunculus aconitifolius. Ranunculus acriformis.

For the first time in many years (I spend less time than I should lying in fields of buttercups these days) I took a close look at buttercups, just to see what I could see. And one thing I discovered made me realize how they might have been persuaded to become the bloated patriarchs of the catalogues. For one thing, color. Wild ranunculus often sports a gleaming white petal or two, which hints that it might be amenable to changing its color, if bred for it.

The second thing is petals. The buttercups in my neighborhood (Ranunculus occidentalis) usually have five sepals, and mostly have five petals – but there are a lot of exceptions.

It doesn’t take much looking to find a buttercup with more petals than five. There’s the occasional six-petal flower. There are the ones that splay out multiple petals (the highest count I got when I went out photographing was nine, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others with more). And there are the ones that stack them up in two layers, which looks to me like a prototype (if you have an evil-genius mind) to those big fold-on-fold-on-fold ranunculus in the catalogues.

When it comes to a discussion of buttercups, there’s an important issue that can’t be avoided: do you like butter? I have no idea where the custom of holding buttercups under people’s chins, to see the yellow reflection, came from. It’s one of those bits of myth that gets passed from child to child (for how long? “Ring around the rosy” comes from the Black Plague), but is seldom noticed by adults.

Maybe it’s an old health question: in winter, people didn’t get much in the way of fats, once the cows or goats went dry and the fall butchering was eaten. Maybe it was a way of checking to see if a person’s skin had enough oil to be healthy. I realize this is far-fetched, and I invite you to add your own theories, far-fetched or close at hand.

Wild yellow ranunculus

Of course I have to admit, I didn’t learn my butter-liking techniques from Ranunculus occidentalis (occidentalis means “west” in Latin). Though I am a native California, my parents transplanted me to New Jersey at a tender age. So the buttercup I learned to put under people’s chins, sometime early in elementary school, was Ranunculus abortivus L., the littleleaf buttercup native to New Jesey.

Wild Ranunculus Flowers

There is more than one kind of native buttercup, even in California. The white water buttercup (Ranunculus aquatilis) grows in ponds or small streams, as the name implies. Ranunculus californicus has some of the same range as R. occidentalis, but R. californicus has 9 to 16 petals as a standard, not a variation, and grows in moist places.


Whatever their type, wild buttercups can be replanted for years of pleasure. The easiest way to seed them, of course, is to leave them uncut until the seedpods mature and they seed themselves. You can also gather ripe seed from elsewhere, and scatter it nearby, acting as a part of nature (which is, after all, what we properly are). Of course you’ll want to be sure you’re harvesting only a small portion of seed from a good stand – you want the wild plants to flourish in their own chosen spot, as well as near you.

Where to plant them when you get the seeds home? My buttercups prefer moist water-meadows, but they will grow – for a briefer time – on the winter-rain-soaked dry upland meadows.

At least that’s true for Ranunculus occidentalis. Prairie buttercups (Ranunculus rhomboideus) like dry, well-drained soil. Other US species don’t seem to care if it’s moist or dry.

And that’s not the end of the likes and dislikes of various kinds of buttercups. In my search for buttercup identity, I came up with scads (a specialized botanical term) of species from all over the world; they seem to especially love very far north Eurasian lands like Finland and Russia. It’s likely that, if you live in a temperate region, there’s a wild buttercup near you, just suited to your climate and rainfall.

So it seems I’ve started this post trying to tell of a personal love, and wound up in global mystery. Love is like that. What are the homely plants that play a large part in your own inner landscape?

If you’re interested in more on natives, I’ve written up a lot of my own Northern California ones (just select the Wild Plants). Or try Lost in the Landscape for witty, informative, and beautifully-photographed posts on Southern California natives. For California natives in general, Las Pilitas will fill you in on a plethora of varieties, uses, and habitats – plus they sell the plants in question. And there’s always the California Native Plant Society.

Those of you in Texas might enjoy Conscious Gardening, which has a lot on natives and other ways to save water in the garden. If any readers have suggestions for other reliable native plant sites outside of California, I’d really like to know. Some of the New Jersey wildlings of my youth are also dear to me, and I’d love to know to get a refresher on what their natural environments are.

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Early Buttercup
Ranunculus fascicularis
Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Description: This perennial wildflower consists of a small tuft of basal leaves and flowering stalks; a tufted plant is typically about 6' tall and 6' across. The basal leaves are usually divided into 3-5 leaflets; these leaflets are divided into narrow lobes and they may have a few teeth along their margins. There is a variety of Early Buttercup (var. apricus) with basal leaves that are shallowly divided into wide lobes or teeth, but it is uncommon. Each basal leaf has a long slender petiole. The flowering stalks are light green to purplish brown; each stalk has 1-2 cauline leaves. The cauline leaves are smaller in size than the basal leaves; they are either sessile or short-stalked. The cauline leaves are undivided, or they have 2-3 small lobes. Both basal and cauline leaves are medium green and either glabrous or silky-hairy. Both the flowering stalks and the petioles of basal leaves are usually silky-hairy.

How To Get Rid Of Wild Ranunculus Flowers

The flowers occur individually or in small loose clusters. Each flower is about ¾–1' across, consisting of 5 spreading petals (rarely more), 5 spreading sepals, a ring of numerous stamens, and a dense cluster of pistils in the center. The yellow petals are oblong or elliptic-oblong in shape; they are longer than wide. The green or yellowish green sepals are ovate in shape and usually hairy; they are shorter than the petals. The blooming period occurs during mid-spring and lasts about 2-3 weeks. Each flower is replaced by a dense cluster of beaked achenes spanning about 1/3' across. These achenes are orbicular and flat-sided (about 2.5–3.0 mm. across); their beaks are straight or curved (about 1.5–2 mm. long), while their sides are smooth. The root system consists of a tuft of thickened fibrous roots. This wildflower spreads by reseeding itself.
Cultivation: The preference is full sun to light shade, mesic to dry conditions, and a rather poor soil containing rocky material or sand. This buttercup is a candidate for rock gardens.
Range & Habitat: Early Buttercup occurs occasionally throughout Illinois (see Distribution Map), where it is native. Habitats include upland woodlands, thinly wooded bluffs, rocky savannas and sandy savannas, hill prairies, sand prairies, rocky glades, and pastures. This wildflower is found in rather dry areas where there is sparse ground vegetation.

Faunal Associations: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract primarily bees and Syrphid flies. Bee visitors of Early Buttercup's flowers include honeybees, Little Carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), Cuckoo bees (Nomada spp.), Mason bees (Osmia spp.), Halictid bees (Halictus spp., Lasioglossum spp., & others), and Andrenid bees (Andrena spp.). Less common visitors of the flowers include butterflies, skippers, and miscellaneous flies (other than Syrphid). The seeds and foliage of Ranunculus spp. (buttercups) are eaten to a limited extent by the Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, and Ring-Necked Pheasant. The seeds are also eaten to a limited extent by the Eastern Chipmunk, Gray Squirrel, Fox Squirrel, and voles. During the winter, Snow Buntings feed on the seeds of some buttercup species in fields and pastures. Because of the toxic foliage, Early Buttercup and other buttercups are often rejected by cattle and other mammalian herbivores as a source of food.
Photographic Location: The wildflower garden of the webmaster in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: This buttercup is the earliest to bloom. Among the many Ranunculus spp. (buttercups) in Illinois, Early Buttercup can be distinguished by its diminutive size, relatively large flowers (at least ¾' across), and deeply lobed leaves (except for var. apricus). Both the blades of the basal leaves and the petals of the flowers are longer than they are wide; other buttercups often have leaf blades and flower petals that are about as wide as they are long. Mature specimens of Early Buttercup produce fibrous roots that are slightly swollen and fleshy, although not truly tuberous.

Wild Crocosmia