GOLDCUPS BUTTERFLOWERS BLISTERFLOWERS
(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
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.
The YELLOW WATER BUTTERCUP or CROWFOOT (R. deiphinifolius; R.
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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