Buttercups

Lesser Celandine Creeping Buttercup Goldilocks Buttercup Celery-leaved Buttercup

What are they?

Buttercups are such an integral part of the countryside that they must be known by everyone, but evolution has provided us with a bewildering number of species to sort out! These are key species in the family Ranunculaceae, a family that contains a number of poisonous species. The toxicity of buttercups means that they get left by grazing stock and buttercup species soon become abundant in overgrazed grassland.

Where are they found?

Our common species of buttercup can be abundant in all kinds of open, grassy places. Some species may also be found in wetlands, while others are woodland species. As such, the habitat can be an integral part of the identification.

Identification

The flowers of the first few species on this page are all rather similar, but the position of the sepals can be important. Note also details of the leaf shape. Other species can be identified by a combination of flower and leaf detail.



Meadow Buttercup      Ranunculus acris

A very common and often abundant species of grassy commons and roadsides on all but the most acidic soils and especially favouring damper soils. Flowers May to August. A tall-growing species, sometimes to 100cm im height where not mown. Flowers with sepals flattened against the petals. Leaves very deeply cut almost to the veins.

Meadow Buttercup Meadow Buttercup Meadow Buttercup
Habit
Flower & sepals
Leaf


Creeping Buttercup      Ranunculus repens

A very common native of wet grassland and the edges of ponds and other wetlands. Also frequently on grassy paths and rides in damp woodland and as a weed of damp farmland. Flowers May to August. Spreads by underground rhizomes to form extensive mats of three-lobed leaves, these leaves with conspicuous pale marks on them. Flowers with sepals flattened against the petals.

Creeping Buttercup Creeping Buttercup Creeping Buttercup Creeping Buttercup
Habit
Flower
Flower & sepals
Leaf


Bulbous Buttercup      Ranunculus bulbosus

A native species of grassy places and especially common in unimproved grasslands such as old commons and churchyards. Flowers April to June. Leaves rather variable with some more deeply cut than others, but usually clearly three-lobed. Sepals on open flowers are fully reflexed against the stem and not held against the petals. The base of the plant is whitish and slightly swollen, giving it a rather bulbous look; this can be detected by feeling carefully at the base of the plant, without the need to dig plants up.

Bulbous Buttercup Bulbous Buttercup Bulbous Buttercup Bulbous Buttercup
Habit
Flower & sepals
Leaf
Bulbous base


Hairy Buttercup      Ranunculus sardous

A native species of coastal grazing marshes and often common in such habitats. Flowers June to October. Easily confused with Bulbous Buttercup as the two species are very similar, especially hairier forms of Bulbous Buttercup. Hairy Buttercup is an annual that does not develop the bulbous base found in the perennial Bulbous Buttercup. Hairy Buttercup is also much more hairy, with hairs on all parts, especially the stems and leaf petioles.

Hairy Buttercup Hairy Buttercup Hairy Buttercup Hairy Buttercup
Habit
Flower & sepals
Leaf
Hairy stems


Small-flowered Buttercup      Ranunculus parviflorus

A rare native of dry, usually regularly trampled or tightly grazed locations. Now extirpated in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk and confined in Suffolk to a handful of coastal sites. Flowers April to June. A tiny plant which forms small rosettes of leaves tight to the ground. The flowers are tiny, 3-6mm across and petalless, or with one or two, greatly reduced petals. Stems lengthen as seed capsules develop and bear narrower leaves than those of the basal rosettes.

Small-flowered Buttercup Small-flowered Buttercup Small-flowered Buttercup Small-flowered Buttercup
Habit
Flower
Leaf
Fruiting stems


Corn Buttercup      Ranunculus arvensis

An ancient introduction, perhaps first appearing in Roman times. Occasional as an arable weed but not extremely rare with few recent records. Some recent projects have attempted to re-establish the species. Flowers June to August. Basal leaves narrowly lobed, upper leaves deeply dissected, rather like those of Goldilocks Buttercup. Most easily told by the seed capsules which are covered in spines.

Corn Buttercup
Seed capsules


Goldilocks Buttercup      Ranunculus auricomus

A widespread but uncommon species of old woodland and shady places. Flowers April to May. The flowers of this species have rather irregular petals with flowers occasionally perfect, but more often having unevenly-sized or much reduced petals, or even no petals at all. Basal leaves three-lobed; upper leaves deeply cut almost to the veins.

Goldilocks Buttercup Goldilocks Buttercup Goldilocks Buttercup Goldilocks Buttercup
Habit
Flower
Lower leaf
Upper leaf


Celery-leaved Buttercup      Ranunculus sceleratus

A common plant of wetlands where it can be found growing on damp mud. Tolerant of a certain amount of saltwater and especially common in the Fens and coastal wetlands. Flowers May to September. A hairless plant with basal leaves that are very like those of Celery. Flowers with small petals and a swollen cluster of carpels in the centre.

Celery-leaved Buttercup Celery-leaved Buttercup Celery-leaved Buttercup Celery-leaved Buttercup
Habit
Flower
Basal leaves
Upper leaf


Lesser Spearwort      Ranunculus flammula

Widespread in well-preserved wetlands, especially in acidic bogs and wet flushes. Flowers June to August. Plants typically grow to around 50cm in height. Petals narrower than those of other buttercups and leaves lance-shaped with strongly tapered bases.

Lesser Spearwort Lesser Spearwort Lesser Spearwort Lesser Spearwort
Habit
Flower
Sepals
Leaves


Greater Spearwort      Ranunculus lingua

Once common in wetland habitats but now scarce and only found in any frequency in parts of the Norfolk Broads. Also sold as a garden plant so may occasionally be found in village ponds where planted. Flowers June to September. A much larger plant than Lesser Spearwort, growing to over a metre in height at times. Flowers large, 2-5cm across and leaves long and grass-like.

Greater Spearwort Greater Spearwort Greater Spearwort
Habit
Flower
Leaves


Lesser Celandine      Ficaria verna

A very common plant of damp woodland and other damp and shady places. Often forms extensive colonies of plants. Flowers February to May. One of the first plants to flower in spring, the flowers generally have eight petals, but any number up to 12 can frequently be found. Leaves are shovel-shaped and may be green, or marked with dark and/or light patches.

Lesser Celandine Lesser Celandine Lesser Celandine Lesser Celandine
Habit
Flower
Flower
Leaf


Marsh-marigold      Caltha palustris

A widespread species of muddy wetlands, especially in shaded areas such as shallow, muddy streams and ditches in woodland and scrub. Large, cultivated forms are sometimes planted beside village and farm ponds. Flowers April to June. The relatively large flowers (up to 30mm across) are carried in branched clusters held well above the heart-shaped leaves. This species differs from the true buttercups by having no petals - it is the sepals that are yellow and fufill the function of petals in this species (check the back of the flower!). The seed capsules are distinctive, being larger but fewer in number than those of the buttercups.

Marsh-marigold Marsh-marigold Marsh-marigold Marsh-marigold
Habit
Flowers
Leaf
Seed capsules