(Ranunculus acris) Crowfoot family

Flowers - Bright, shining yellow, about 1 in. across, numerous,

terminating long slender footstalks. Calyx of 5 spreading sepals;

corolla of 5 petals; yellow stamens and carpels. Stem: Erect,

branched above, hairy (sometimes nearly smooth), 2 to 3 feet

tall, from fibrous roots. Leaves: In a tuft from the base, long

petioled, of 3 to 7 divisions cleft into numerous lobes; stem

leaves nearly sessile, distant, 3-parted.

Preferred Habitat - Meadows, fields, roadsides, grassy places.

Flowering Season - May-September.

Distribution - Naturalized from Europe in Canada and the United

States; most common North.

What youngster has not held these shining golden flowers under

his chin to test his fondness for butter? Dandelions and

marsh-marigolds may reflect their color in his clear skin too,

but the buttercup is every child's favorite. When

"Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue

Do paint the meadows with delight,"

daisies, pink clover, and waving timothy bear them company here;

not the "daisies pied," violets, and lady-smocks of Shakespeare's

England. How incomparably beautiful are our own meadows in June!

But the glitter of the buttercup, which is as nothing to the

glitter of a gold dollar in the eyes of a practical farmer, fills

him with wrath when this immigrant takes possession of his

pastures. Cattle will not eat the acrid, caustic plant - a

sufficient reason for most members of the Ranunculaceae to stoop

to the low trick of secreting poisonous or bitter juices.

Self-preservation leads a cousin, the garden monk's hood, even to

murderous practices. Since children will put everything within

reach into their mouths, they should be warned against biting the

buttercup's stem and leaves, that are capable of raising

blisters. "Beggars use the juice to produce sores upon their

skin," says Mrs. Creevy. A designer might employ these

exquisitely formed leaves far more profitably.

This and the bulbous buttercup, having so much else in common,

have also the same visitors. "It is a remarkable fact," says Sir

John Lubbock, "as Aristotle long ago mentioned, that in most

cases bees confine themselves in each journey to a single species

of plant; though in the case of some very nearly allied forms

this is not so; for instance, it is stated on good authority

(Muller) that Ranunculus acris, R. repens, and R. bulbosus are

not distinguished by the bees, or at least are visited

indifferently by them, as is also the case with two of the

species of clover." From what we already know of the brilliant

Syrphidae flies' fondness for equally brilliant colors, it is not

surprising to find great numbers of them about the buttercups,

with bees, wasps, and beetles - upwards of sixty species. Modern

scientists believe that the habit of feeding on flowers has

called out the color-sense of insects and the taste for bright

colors, and that sexual selection has been guided by this taste.

The most unscientific among us soon finds evidence on every hand

that flowers and insects have developed together through mutual


By having its nourishment thriftily stored up underground all

winter, the BULBOUS BUTTERCUP (R. bulbosus) is able to steal a

march on its fibrous-rooted sister that must accumulate hers all

spring; consequently it is first to flower, coming in early May,

and lasting through June. It is a low and generally more hairy

plant, but closely resembling the tall buttercup in most

respects, and, like it, a naturalized European immigrant now

thoroughly at home in fields and roadsides in most sections of

the United States and Canada.

Much less common is the CREEPING BUTTERCUP (R. repens), which

spreads by runners until it forms large patches in fields and

roadsides, chiefly in the Eastern States. Its leaves, which are

sometimes blotched, are divided into three parts, the terminal

one, often all three, stalked. May-July.

First to bloom in the vicinity of New York (from March to May) is

the HISPID BUTTERCUP (R. hispidus), densely hairy when young. The

leaves, which are pinnately divided into from three to five

leaflets, cleft or lobed, chiefly arise on long petioles from a

cluster of thickened fibrous roots. The flower may be only half

an inch or an inch and a half across. It is found in dry woods

and thickets throughout the eastern half of the United States;

whereas the much smaller flowered BRISTLY BUTTERCUP (R.

Pennsylvanicus) shows a preference for low-lying meadows and wet,

open ground through a wider, more westerly range. Its stout,

hollow, leafy stem, beset with stiff hairs, discourages the

tongues of grazing animals. June-August.

Commonest of the early buttercups is the TUFTED BUTTERCUP (R.

fascicularis), a little plant seldom a foot high, found in the

woods and on rocky hillsides from Texas and Manitoba, east to the

Atlantic, flowering in April or May. The long-stalked leaves are

divided into from three to five parts; the bright yellow flowers,

with rather narrow, distant petals, measure about an inch across.

They open sparingly, usually only one or two at a time on each

plant, to favor pollination from another one.

Scattered patches of the SWAMP or MARSH BUTTERCUP (P.

septentrionalis) brighten low, rich meadows also with their-large

satiny yellow flowers, whose place in the botany even the

untrained eye knows at sight. The smooth, spreading plant

sometimes takes root at the joints of its branches and sends

forth runners, but the stems mostly ascend. The large lower

mottled leaves are raised well out of the wet, or above the

grass, on long petioles. They have three divisions, each lobed

and cleft. From Georgia and Kentucky far northward this buttercup

blooms from April to July, opening only a few flowers at a time-a

method which may make it less showy, but more certain to secure

cross-pollination between distinct plants.


multifidus of Gray) found blooming in ponds through the summer

months, certainly justifies the family name derived from rana = a

frog. Many other members grow in marshes, it is true, but this

ranunculus lives after the manner of its namesake, sometimes

immersed, sometimes stranded on the muddy shore. Two types of

leaves occur on the same stem. Their waving filaments, which make

the immersed leaves look fringy, take every advantage of what

little carbonic acid gas is dissolved under the surface.

Moreover, they are better adapted to withstand the water's

pressure and possible currents than solid blades would be. The

floating leaves which loll upon the surface to take advantage of

the air and sunlight, expand three, four, or five divisions,

variously lobed. On this plant we see one set of leaves perfectly

adapted to immersion, and another set to aerial existence. The

stem, which may measure several feet in length, roots at the

joints when it can. Range from the Mississippi and Ontario

eastward to the Atlantic Ocean.

The WHITE WATER-CROWFOOT (Batrachium trichophyllum; Ranunculus

aquatilis of Gray) has its fine thread-like leaves entirely

submerged; but the flowers, like a whale, as the old conundrum

put it, come to the surface to blow. The latter are small, white,

or only yellow at the base, where each petal bears a spot or

little pit that serves as a pathfinder to the flies. When the

water rises unusually high, the blossoms never open, but remain

submerged, and fertilize themselves. Seen underwater, the

delicate leaves, which are little more than forked hairs, spread

abroad in dainty patterns; lifted cut of the water these flaccid

filaments utterly collapse. In ponds and shallow, slow streams,

this common plant flowers from June to September almost

throughout the Union, the British Possessions north of us, and in

Europe and Asia.

The WATER PLANTAIN SPEARWORT (K. obtusiusculus; R. a/isrnaefoiius

of Gray) flecks the marshes from June to August with its small

golden flowers, which the merest novice knows must be kin to the

buttercup. The smooth, hollow stem, especially thick at the base,

likes to root from the lower joints. A peculiarity of the

lance-shaped or oblong lance-shaped leaves is that the lower ones

have petioles so broad where they clasp the stem that they appear

to be long blades suddenly contracted just above their base.

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