This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
Annual or perennial herbs with entire or dissected leaves, cauline often differing from the radical. Flowers double in some cultivated varieties, usually yellow or white, in terminal panicles, or sessile in the axils of the leaves. Sepals 3 to 5, caducous, imbricated in the bud. Petals usually 5, glandular at the base. Carpels many, with 1 erect seed. From the Latin rana, a frog, in allusion to the habitat of many species. A vast genus, dispersed all over the world. This genus, like Anemone, has its florists', or what we might term classical species, and here also there seem to have been two original species, though the second is of less importance.
1. R. Asiaticus. - This was introduced into Western Europe towards the end of the sixteenth century, though it had previously been long under cultivation in Asia. It is supposed to be indigenous in Persia; but the first were brought from Constantinople. They were semi-double, but fertile, and thus seed was obtained from which new varieties were raised. They soon gained favour, and rapidly spread, especially in England and Holland, where the principal varieties originated. The Persian Ranunculus (fig. 8) is of smaller stature than the double Anemones, with less finely-cut foliage, and more spreading rose-like petals. Amongst the colours represented are yellow, bright orange, crimson, rose, brown, chestnut, dark purple, and pure white, with all their intermediate shades and tints. Some varieties are unicoloured, and others are of two or three colours, in stripes, spots, or borderings.
Fig. 8. Ranunculus Asiaticus flore pleno. (1/3 nat. she.)
2. R. Africanus. Turban Ranunculus. - This differs from the foregoing in greater height, broader less narrowly divided leaves, and large more convex flowers, in consequence of the petals being incurved towards the centre of the flower. It is likewise hardier, and blooms earlier, and is not so difficult to grow. The varieties are fewer, and as the flowers are invariably sterile new ones are not produced. They are yellow, orange-red, white, dark brown, etc, unicoloured or variegated. The better known sorts are: Romano, scarlet; Turban d'or, scarlet and golden-yellow; Seraphique, yellow; Hercules, pure white; Turban noir, chestnut brown; grandiflora, crimson rose; Souci dore, orange and brown.
Of the numerous alpine and other species, few are in general cultivation. The double-flowered varieties popularly known as Batchelor's Buttons are the most familiar.
3. R. aconitifolius, syn. R. platanifolius. - The double variety of this species is the only one in general cultivation under the name of White Batchelor's Buttons. It is a hand-some herbaceous plant, about 2 feet high, with beautiful 5-lobed leaves, and terminal panicles of pure white flowers. This is the plant called in some districts 'Fair Maids of France.' It is a native of Central Europe, flowering towards the end of Spring.
4. R. acris. Crowfoot. - The single-flowered plant is one of our commonest Buttercups, growing about 2 feet high, with spreading branches and bright yellow flowers. The leaves are deeply 5- to '7-partite. It is the only tall branching perennial native species with lobed leaves we have, and may be seen by almost every road-side. The double variety, Yellow Batche-lor's Buttons, is seldom seen now.
5. R. bulbosus, flare pleno. - Like the last this is a common native plant, especially in the South of England. This rarely exceeds a foot in height, and has an erect usually unbranched stem and ternately divided leaves. The base of the stem is enlarged, hence the name. The flowers are rather larger in this, but fewer in number.
6. R. Lingua. Spearwort. - One of our handsomest native species inhabiting marshy districts. Stem branched, from 2 to 3 feet high, with sessile lanceolate entire or slightly-toothed stem-clasping leaves and bright yellow flowers 2 inches in diameter.
7. R. aqudtilis. Water Buttercup. - This familiar early-flowering aquatic plant, with floating stems, more or less divided leaves, and pure white flowers, needs little description. There are very many varieties, all of them pretty.
8. R. Ficaria, Pilewort or Buttercup, is the common native Spring-flowering species with radical cordate shining leaves and bright glittering yellow flowers on short stalks scarcely exceeding the leaves.