CROWFOOT FAMILY - Ranunculaceae: Marsh Marigold; Meadow-gowan; American Cowslip

Caltha palustris

Flowers--Bright, shining yellow, 1 to 1-1/2 in. across, a few in terminal and axillary groups. No petals; usually 5 (often more) oval, petal-like sepals; stamens numerous; many pistils (carpels) without styles. Stem: Stout, smooth, hollow, branching, 1 to 2 ft. high. Leaves: Mostly from root, rounded, broad, and heart-shaped at base, or kidney-shaped, upper ones almost sessile, lower ones on fleshy petioles.

Preferred Habitat--Springy ground, low meadows, swamps, river banks, ditches.

Flowering Season--April-June.

Distribution--Carolina to Iowa, the Rocky Mountains, and very far north.

Not a true marigold, and even less a cowslip, it is by these names that this flower, which looks most like a buttercup, will continue to be called, in spite of the protests of scientific classifiers. Doubtless the first of these folk-names refers to its use in church festivals during the Middle Ages as one of the blossoms devoted to the Virgin Mary.

  "And winking Mary-buds begin
  To ope their golden eyes,"

sing the musicians in "Cymbeline." Whoever has seen the watery Avon meadows in April, yellow and twinkling with marsh marigolds when "the lark at heaven's gate sings," appreciates why the commentators incline to identify Shakespeare's Mary-buds with the Caltha of these and our own marshes.

But we know well that not for poets' high-flown rhapsodies but rather for the more welcome hum of bees and flies intent on breakfasting, do these flowers open in the morning sunshine.

Some country people who boil the young plants declare these "greens" are as good as spinach. What sacrilege to reduce crisp, glossy, beautiful leaves like these to a slimy mess in a pot! The tender buds, often used in white sauce as a substitute for capers, probably do not give it the same piquancy where piquancy is surely most needed--on boiled mutton, said to be Queen Victoria's favorite dish. Hawked about the streets in tight bunches, the Marsh Marigold blossoms--with half their yellow sepals already dropped--and the fragrant, pearly, pink arbutus are the most familiar spring wild flowers seen in Eastern cities.