When it comes to super hero’s, most people don’t think of a Buttercup. I mean, the name alone gives you the impression of an easygoing, slight pushover of a plant doesn’t it? Well, this little flower has used it’s disguise well. It’s the Jekyll and Hyde of the flower world. Nicely done Buttercup.
Ranunculus is Latin for little frog. This may refer to the fact that many of this species is found near water.
Yes, I’m referring to the same flower you remember from childhood. Remember holding them under your chin to see if there’s a yellow reflection? If a yellow glow was there it meant you liked butter… or so they say. I don’t remember this because as a suburban kid I didn’t get to enjoy wild flowers. We had a dichondra lawn and the typical nursery plants you’d find in a tract home neighborhood. Grams did have a great collection of interesting plants but no wild flowers. Buttercups and I never met. Annnnnd… I’m not a big fan of butter anyway. Hmmm…
The petals of the Buttercup are very lustrous, almost glass looking. Their glossiness is what caught my eye and before I knew it my crow-like tendencies took over and I was wandering our meadow, enchanted by this shiny little flower. Seems we have loads of them!
A Spring bloomer, the Buttercup uses it’s flashy powers to attract pollinators from long distances, like an In N Out burger sign that calls to me as I drive West. Like that. It also tracks the sun like George Hamilton on a sandy beach but, it has another super power! The ability to keep grazing animals from eating it.
The Buttercup has a glycoside chemical called Ranunculin and once the plants cells are crushed a chemical reaction occurs and turns this glycoside into Protoanemonin, a bitter and irritating oil as well as a hard to pronounce oil. Cellularly there’s a series of reactions that lead to this but really no super hero wants their powers to be divulged so I will respect the little buttercup and just say it tastes bad. Oh, and before you think that’s all this cute little flower has got to give… I should mention that if sheep or pigs eat it they could suffer paralysis. They are also poisonous to dogs and cats but most animals are smart enough not to eat things that can kill them. Unlike Andrew Zimmern. Still think that little Buttercup is a pushover? Ha!
If you have an interest in growing these little beauties, it’s easier to find a friend that has some and start with root divisions. Starting from seed can take weeks but if you’re in no hurry, seeds are fine. They enjoy full sun to partial shade. They like a light cool soil that drains well. While Buttercups don’t require a rich soil, it will help with their growth. Mulch around your plants, if grown in a sunny location, to keep the soil cool. Add a general purpose fertilizer in the spring, and once a month afterwards. Or be like me and do nothing and have acres full of them… sometimes less is more.
So there you have it. A new super hero disguised as a cute little pushover. The next time someone refers to you as a Buttercup, just say “Thanks”!
What’s your favorite wildflower?