Learning to Love Buttercups

Creeping buttercup

Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

My past relationship with buttercups has not always been the best. I loved them in my earlier years, holding the flowers under my chin to see if I liked butter (!), and the lovely bright shine to their yellow petals, but my last garden in Sussex was overrun with them. They grew in the lawn, and crept from there into the flowerbeds. If you didn’t weed the flowerbeds early in the year they would be thigh-high with buttercups by late spring. A beautiful sight, really, but not one I wanted to see amongst my carefully cultivated and cared for plants. They were everywhere, and with any tiny bit of root producing a new plant, they were impossible to get rid of. However, all that is behind me now.

I have discovered, to my delight, that Creeping buttercups (Ranunculus repens) are only one type of buttercup, and that there are plenty of other varieties that, presumably, don’t creep as much. Not to say that they don’t spread, as evidenced by the wonderful vistas of buttercup-strewn meadows that I keep coming across. Mingling with red clover and daisies, they create a magnificent sight, especially when graced by a small herd of lounging Charolais cattle.

Buttercup meadowCharolais cattleTwo main varieties of buttercup grow around here, with an easy way of distinguishing between the two, once you know. The very common Meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris) has smooth stems, unlike the ridged stems of Creeping buttercups, and the five sepals – first green and later yellowing – cup the petals.

Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris)

The Bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), on the other hand, has ridged stems, and the sepals are distinctively turned down, or reflexed. It gets its name (and its alternative common name, St Anthony’s turnip) from the bulbous corm just below ground from which the leaves grow, causing the plant to form tufts.

Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus)

So, now that I am finding out more about them, and seeing them in all their magnificent glory in their natural habitat, I am certainly learning to love buttercups again.

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