This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Owing to its soft carpels, perhaps, this plant has not been found fossil. It is confined to the Arctic and Warm Temperate Zone, occurring in Arctic Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. It is found in every part of England and Wales as well as Scotland, from the Shetland Isles southwards. In Wales it grows at a height of 2400 ft. It is found in Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The lowly Pilewort, to give it its other name, so unlike the usual type of Crowfoot or Buttercup in flower, and especially in foliage and habit, differs in having only one cotyledon, which may be regarded as due to its geophilous habit, that is to say, the green parts live above ground for only part of the year. Thus it is propagated by small tubers, which give it its name, and it would appear according to one view to be a Dicotyledon which has suppressed its other cotyledon or seed-leaf owing to the fact that its habitat was once more aquatic. It will be found down in the damp hollows of clayey ash woods, or in moist open meadows and fields, and under hedges carpeting the bank to the exclusion of all else. In fact, on a lawn it is a great exterminator of grass.
1 The number in front of the specific description of a plant indicates its place in the Analytic Summary at the beginning of Vol. I.
The Lesser Celandine has a loose rosette habit. The plant is without hairs. The root-fibres are stout, cylindric, or tufted tubers, which are thick, club-shaped, fleshy. The stem is prostrate, short, branched below, weak, sometimes with bulbs or corms in the axils, in which case the plant does not flower but reproduces by the corms. The stem is one-flowered, with 1-3 leaves. The leaves are chiefly radical, heart-shaped, thick, smooth, shining, dark green, angular, the angles blunt, or the margin may be wavy or scalloped. The leaves are stalked, the leaf-stalk stout and thickened below.
In the typical form the lobes of the lower leaves are separate at the base, not overlapping. The lowest sheaths are narrow. The stomata are on the upper surface of the leaves as in aquatic plants with floating leaves, and this species may once have been aquatic.
The flowers are large, shining yellow golden, about an inch in diameter. The petals may be absent. The flower-stalks are in the axils, stout, with one or two leaves. The petals are usually eight in number, but vary considerably in number up to sixteen, and in form, being often much reduced. There are three sepals as a rule. The achenes form a round head and are smooth, blunt, large. Seed is not always set, the plant reproducing vegetatively. The style is very small. The cotyledon is single as in Monocotyledons, which may result from suppression of the second, or be a primitive character. Since the plant is a geophyte and adapted to aquatic conditions, as a large proportion of the Monocotyledons also are, the order Ranunculaceae may be regarded as closely allied to the Monocotyledons.
The Lesser Celandine grows 6 in. high, flowers from March to May, and is perennial.
The mode of pollination in the Lesser Celandine is not dissimilar on the whole to that in the common Meadow Crowfoots. The anthers ripen before the stigma. The number of the stamens is variable, as in the other parts of the flower. The plant flowers early, at a time when few insects are Hying, but none the less it is much visited by insects, which seek honey as well as pollen. The anthers are turned towards the centre at first, but the outer anther-stalks bend so that they-lie just above the honey glands at the base of the petals. An insect seeking honey will naturally brush itself with pollen, which it bears to the next flower and deposits on the stigma. The anthers then turn out wards, an adaptation to prevent self-pollination. The next row of stamens then follows suit and the performance is as before.
Photo. B. Hanley - Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus Ficaria, L.)
In spite of this, as mentioned already, seed is rarely set, and the plant is vegetatively reproduced to a great extent. In some cases only female flowers occur. Early in the season the flowers of most plants possess few, 2-3, petals, those that come on later having as many as eleven.
The seeds are scattered by the plant itself, being contained in rounded achenes or fruits, which are adapted for dispersal when the achenes are mature and drop off.
Pilewort is a typical clay-loving plant, requiring a clay soil, generally derived from older rocks, and furnished by granite and schistose formations as well as later Carboniferous and Triassic formations.
The orange cluster-cups of the small fungus Uromyces boae grow on the leaves of this plant, being the second phase of the fungus, which crows on various grasses. Other fungi which infest it are Peronospora Ficariae and Entoloma Ranunculi.
The moth Flame Brocade (Phlogophora empyrea or Trigonophora flammed) infests it in the caterpillar stage.
Ficaria was proposed as a genus by Brunfels in allusion to its supposed cure of piles (Latin ficus, a fig). Celandine is the name given (from Greek chelidon) from its blossoming when the swallow arrives.
In English it is called Bright Eye, Celidony, Crain, Crazy, Crow Pightle, Figwort, Foalfoot, Gilding-cup, Gilty Cup, Golden Cup, Golden Guineas, Goldy Knob, King-cup, Marsh Pilewort, Paigle, Pilewort.
There's a flower that shall be mine 'T is the little Celandine. Wordsworth.
The Lesser Celandine is not so acrid as the other species. The leaves have indeed been employed as a potherb. The roots are, however, acrid and bitter. By the law of signatures it was recommended as a remedy for piles. Pigeons are said to eat the tubers.
The tubers lie near the surface, and when exposed by rains their appearance gave rise to the notion that the atmosphere had rained wheat. In Sweden the plant is used in place of cabbage.
Essential Specific Characters: 10. Ranunculus Ficaria, L. - I cotyledon, root knob-like, leaves reniform, cordate, radical, shining, entire, flowers yellow, 3 sepals, 9 petals, achenes smooth, obtuse, globose.