Get to know the Lesser Celandine--.Ranunculus ficaria.

Photographs by Dal

Photo above Lesser Celandine in bloom Image by Dal.

Despite freezing conditions that may prevail in the north West of England the foliage of this plant seems to penetrate the iron hard surface during January. It is a plant that tenants damp meadows, woods and other shady aspects. Along with the colt'sfoot {see link top of page in the content banners}, this perennial native species is one of the first harbingers of spring proper.

The flowers burst into life during February and March displaying golden yellow star shaped flower heads. The petals which vary in number from 7-12 have three green sepals below. These sepals fall away as the flower unfolds, unlike those of their close relative the buttercup which clasp the flower from below throughout the flowering period. The plant belongs to the buttercup family Ranunucalaceae hence the genus name of Ranunculus, from Latin rana meaning a frog.It alludes to many species of this genus sharing the same damp habitat as the creature.

The bright yellow flowers have been described as " thousands of miniature suns" an apt description as they brighten up the dank vegetation a legacy of winters cruel grip.  These flowers help the nature lover to dispel some of the winter blues and lifts the spirits. They are about 2 cm across and are borne on singly on leafless slender stalks. The fruit {seed capsule}  are very similar to those of the buttercup being set together in a globular head.

The flowers, even though they possess honey sacks, which would be of benefit to bees and other insects, are rarely visited for they bloom in the most part when it is to cold for such creatures to be abroad. Even in fine weather the flowers do not open early and they are closed again by night fall. The petals are greenish below so that when the flowers are closed they become inconspicuous.

The flower of Lesser celandine.

Courtesy of Phil Sellens CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic License. { originally posted to Flickr.}


 Should you be inclined to dig up the plant in late summer or autumn you will discover that the small fig-like tubers hang in a bunch along the stringy root. The plant attained its species name of ficaria-meaning a fig or fig like, from the shape of these tubers. They also give rise to the country title of pile wort. In archaic times herbalists believed in the "Doctrine of signatures" which meant that every plant would give a sign  either by colour of form of the disease they were meant to cure. In the case of the lesser celandine it was these hanging bunches of tubers which superficially resemble the affliction commonly referred to as "piles" that led them to being used for their treatment. Indeed a poultice was made of the foliage and applied warm to the area infected. Ointments made from the fresh tops of the plant were also applied to the infected area.See link WILD HERB ADVISE concerning medicinal uses].

The tubers are the main reproductive organs for the plant for they seldom produce fertile seeds in the U.K.. The tubers break off readily and each one is capable of producing a new plant. Some sub-species grow bulbils {tiny bulb like growths} in between the leaves and stem which fall off when ripe. If conditions are favourable they will form new plants.

Like all members of the buttercup family the plant is poisonous. This species should not be mistaken for the unrelated Greater celandine which belongs to the poppy family and grown as a cottage garden favourite. Because of their similar names it has caused confusion over the two species in the past.

The plant was a favourite flower of the poet William Wordsworth, it grew in abundance in the Lake District . The foliage of the celandine was carved upon his tomb in Grassmere. However, because of the afore mentioned confusion at the time over the two species, the stone mason carved the foliage of the Greater celandine by mistake.

i will conclude with these lines from William Wordsworth----

Pansies, Lilies,Kingcups, Daisies,

Let them live upon their praises;

Long as there's a sun that sets,

Primroses will have their glory,

Long as there are violets,

they will have their place in story;

There's a flower that shall be mine,

'Tis the little celandine. 



 Image of the close up flower courtesy of AnemoneProjectors CC BY-SA 2.0 License. { originally posted to Flickr.}







LEAVES---Hairless heart shaped long stalked.

FLOWERS--Yellow fading to white as they fade. 2-3 cm across. Petals 7-12.

FRUITS -Hairy achnes similar in form to the buttercup's achne. 2-5mm long with a straight beak.

FLOWERING TIME---Late February -April. { by May the foliage has all but disappeared.}

HABITAT-- damp woodland, damp meadows and other shady aspects.

DISTRIBUTION. Throughout north west England.

CONSERVATION STATUS; None very common.


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