[The name is the diminutive of rana, a frog, as some of the species grow in damp places.]
Some of the species are weeds, a few are border-flowers, and R. Asiaticus is one of the most esteemed florist's flowers. There are a number of varieties of Butter-cups, which are found double, and are frequently introduced into the flower-garden.
Ranunculus repens flore pleno, is a double variety; the roots are creeping, and therefore the plant is rather troublesome. The flowers are pretty, of a glossy yellow, and in bloom a number of months. R. acris flore pleno is a variety with upright stems; two feet high, with bright-yellow double flowers, in June and July.
This beautiful plant has fine double white flowers, in June; one foot high; for some reason it is not much cultivated in this country. It goes by the name of "Fair Maids, of France."
R. Asiaticus, is one of the most splendid florist's flowers in cultivation; but, unfortunately, our climate is so uncongenial for its perfection, and it requires so much skill and care, that it has received but little attention, except by a few individuals. To have it in all its beauty and strength, it should be kept growing very moderately all winter; but our climate is so severe that this is impossible, in the open air, without too much covering, which would cause the plants to become drawn and weakened in such a manner as to be ruined. In a green-house this may be done; but how shall they be managed in the open air? Samuel Walker, Esq., formerly President of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, has been the most successful of any person in this neighborhood, in blooming the Ranunculus in the open air. The following are the directions he gave for their cultivation, as published some years since:-
"The soil should be trenched eighteen or twenty inches, and composed of good rich loam, to which add one-sixth part of very old, well-rotted cow manure, and the same quantity of clay, broken into small pieces; add to this a little sand, and thoroughly mix the whole; if the soil binds, add some sandy peat; make the bed on a level with the path or walks; the plants would do better if the bed was below, rather than above, the level.
"Having prepared the soil, as above, some time during the summer or autumn, take the earliest opportunity, in the spring succeeding, to stir up the bed one spit, and take off one and a half inch of the soil; then place the plants in an upright position on the surface, six inches apart each way, and replace the soil carefully,which will cover the crown of the Ranunculus about one and one-half inch; deeper planting would be injurious. After the plants appear, keep them free from weeds and press the soil firmly around them after they get two inches high. If the weather prove dry, water them freely early in the morning, and shade them from the sun from 9 A. M., to 3 o'clock, P. M. As soon as the foliage becomes yellow, take the roots up, and dry them thoroughly in the shade, and keep them in a dry place."
"The Ranunculus loves a cool and moist location, but no stagnant water should be permitted, nor should they be placed under the shade or drippings of trees. The morning sun, free circulation of air, and shade, as directed, will ensure success."
The root of the Ranunculus is a cluster of small tubers, like claws, united in the crown, which send up several bipartite leaves and an erect, branched stem, eight or twelve inches high, with a terminating flower, variously colored. It is a native of the Levant, and was cultivated by Gerarde in 1596. Though rather a tender plant, innumerable and highly beautiful double flowered varieties have been raised from seed, chiefly by the English florists, from the middle to the latter end of the last century. In a Dutch catalogue, about seven hundred varieties were named a few years since, and in an English catalogue about five hundred.
The stem should be strong, straight, and from eight to twelve inches high, supporting a large well-formed blossom or corolla at least two inches in diameter, consisting of numerous petals, the largest at the outside, and gradually diminishing in size as they approach the center of the flower, which should be well filled up with them. The blossom should be of a hemispherical form; its component petals should be imbricated in such a manner as neither to be too close and compact nor too widely separated, but have more of a perpendicular than horizontal direction to display their colors with better effect. The petals should be broad, and have perfectly entire well rounded edges; their colors should be dark, clear, rich or brilliant, either consisting of one color throughout, or be otherwise variously diversified, on an ash, white, sulphur, or fine colored ground, or regularly striped, spotted or mottled in an elegant manner. It is said, that in no instance does the seed of the Ranunculus produce two flowers like the original. Those who have made the attempt to cultivate the Ranunculus, and have given it proper treatment, have been well rewarded for their pains, and we should be glad to see it more generally cultivated; but unless good varieties are obtained, and the roots sound and plump, it will not be best to make the experiment.
There is another Ranunculus, called the Great Turban or Great Turkey Ranunculus, producing large, double, and very brilliant flowers. The roots are somewhat larger, but similar to the other species, and the mode of cultivation the same. The varieties are not so numerous, but very brilliant.
The bed for Ranunculus should be prepared in autumn and protected from frost by leaves, and the frame covered with boards to keep out the wet. In pleasant weather the last of February or beginning of March, the roots should be planted as heretofore directed, the soil having first been dug over and made smooth. The frame is then to be placed over the bed and the lights put in. In cold weather there must be a protection of mats to keep out frost, but give air and sun as soon as they begin to vegetate. The bloom will be much more perfect and continue for a much longer time if screened by an awning, as the flowers begin to expand. The hot mid-day sun will soon spoil the bloom.