A look at three of our commonest buttercups-Creeping, Meadow and Bulbous.

The creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens.


Creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens.

This tenacious perennial is capable of withstanding trampling, compacting, water logging and even moderate drought, making it a formidable foe for the gardener. the flower is familiar to all gardeners, adults and children alike. It is a native perennial found in a variety of locations such as deciduous woodland, cultivated land,dunes, grassland,heath land, hedgerows meadows, river banks, roadsides, scrub, short turf, wasteland and as a garden weed.

The plant spreads by means of stolons {creeping runners} that root at the nodes producing new plants. The species name of repens alludes to this {related to reptile, creeping,crawling}. The flowering stems are erect and leafy,hairy and grooved. The foliage of the hairy basal leaves are long stalked cut into three toothed segments.

The familiar flowers consist of five deep yellow glossy petals. Beneath the petals are five sepals which are hairy and clasp the petals from below. The flowers which some times turn white as they fade are succeeded by the fruits which are smooth achenes with short beaks which are grouped together in a globular head. They flower from May until August.

Below--the distinctive foliage of the creeping buttercup


Basic Biology of the creeping buttercup.

Although the stolons {runners} are the main reproduction organs of the species they do vary a great deal in their performance according to habitat factors. For instance some plants are capable of spreading their stolons widely while others tend to be relatively short and compact. The flowers are insect pollinated but not all flowers produce seed. Those that grow in disturbed habitats such as garden cultivated garden borders or allotments the plant relies more heavily on seed production /germination in order to spread, rather than by relying on stolon reproduction.

Studies have revealed that seed germination may occur throughout the year, however, the main bulk of germination seems to emerge  from March to July and again from August to October. The creeping buttercup has a swollen stem base and adventitious roots { growing directly from the stem}.

The foliage of the creeping buttercup over winter in the form of small rosettes. In spring new foliage develops and just prior to flowering, buds low down in the rosette, grow out into stolons that root at the nodes, thus the cycle begins over again, Stolon production continues into late summer. 

Thankfully as far as the gardener is concerned any that occur in short grassland are relatively easy to dig out. However, in the ground that has not been disturbed such as on waste/or neglected land where they have become well established they are more of a challenge, requiring much more labour to eradicate them.

Buttercups flowering in May


The seeds of the creeping buttercup---

The seeds of the creeping buttercup are eaten by partridges, pheasants and wood pigeons. Geese,chickens and rabbits are known to eat the foliage.

They are the most common of the buttercups to occur in the U.K. and are particularly common in the north of England and especially so in the north west where the wet climate is beneficial to their requirements. 

Meadow buttercup-Ranunculus acris.

This species is often referred to as the tall buttercup which aptly describes this Ranunculus  family member, which grows to the height of between 20-90cm. It is erect in habit,hairy and a perennial rootstock. from this arise basal leaves which are long stalked and deeply divided into 3-7 deeply cut and toothed lobes. the stem leaves are short stalked with the upper most foliage on the stem stalk-less and lack teeth.

Below--the deeply cut foliage of the meadow buttercup.


Ranunculus acris

The yellow flowers 14-25mm wide have 5 glossy bright yellow petals. the sepals are yellowish green clasping the petals from below. the sepals soon fall away when the flowers open. The flowers which occur on the tips of branches are succeeded by a cluster of oval achenes which have short, hooked beaks. The main flowering period is from May until August in the north of England.

Meadow buttercup


Meadow buttercup---

The sap of the meadow buttercup is a skin irritant and can cause blisters. Unlike the former species this species is not tolerant of being trampled, and likes to frequent damp meadow land where the water table is high, but it is also found in open woods. The flowers may well be encountered as late as October and are visited by a number of pollinating insects. the peak period for the fruits is May to August. Most seeds start to emerge from January until April.

After flowering the summer foliage dies and the plant passes the winter in the form of a rosette composed of small leaves which seem to be unaffected by frost. The species relies mainly on seed germination for reproduction although they do have short rhizome. Because the rhizome is so short vegetative reproduction is very limited. they lack the stolons of the former species.

This is probably the second most common buttercup in the U.K. 

Meadow redolent of these golden blooms.


Bulbous buttercup,Ranunculus bulbosus

Finally we review the bulbous buttercup which is very similar to the creeping buttercup in appearance. However, the base of the plant has a much more pronounced bulb like swelling from which it takes its common name. They do not produce stolons {runners}

They attain the height of between 10-40cm  the stem foliage are stalk-less. The flowers are also similar to those of the creeping buttercup having five golden yellow petals, however, the sepals beneath the petals are not clasping and in fact turn back towards the stem which is one of the main identifying features when the species is in flower.

Unlike the creeping buttercup this species delights to grow in dry grassland, especially on lime rich soils. They also grow in meadows, pastures church yards and on sand dunes. They are more common on the eastern side of northern England than they are on the wetter western side.They are widespread through out the country. In Scotland and Ireland they tend to located as a coastal species. They flower from April until June. 

The bulb like swelling of the bulbous buttercup is evident in this photograph courtesy of H.Zell { Creative Commons Share Alike}

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