CROWFOOT FAMILY - Ranunculaceae: Common Meadow Buttercup; Tall Crowfoot; Kingcups; Cuckoo Flower; Goldcups; Butter-flowers; Blister-flowers

Ranunculus acris

Flowers--Bright, shining yellow, about 1 in. across, numerous, terminating long slender footstalks. Calyx of 5 spreading sepals; corolla of 5 petals; yellow stamens and carpels. Stem: Erect, branched above, hairy (sometimes nearly smooth), 2 to 3 feet tall, from fibrous roots. Leaves: In a tuft from the base, long petioled, of 3 to 7 divisions cleft into numerous lobes; stem leaves nearly sessile, distant, 3-parted.

Preferred Habitat--Meadows, fields, roadsides, grassy places.

Flowering Season--May-September.

Distribution--Naturalized from Europe in Canada and the United States; most common North.

What youngster has not held these shining golden flowers under his chin to test his fondness for butter? Dandelions and Marsh Marigolds may reflect their color in his clear skin, too, but the buttercup is every child's favorite. When

  "Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
  Do paint the meadows with delight,"

daisies, pink clover, and waving timothy bear them company here; not the "daisies pied," violets, and lady-smocks of Shakespeare's England. How incomparably beautiful are our own meadows in June! But the glitter of the buttercup, which is as nothing to the glitter of a gold dollar in the eyes of a practical farmer, fills him with wrath when this immigrant takes possession of his pastures. Cattle will not eat the acrid, caustic plant--a sufficient reason for most members of the Ranunculaceae to stoop to the low trick of secreting poisonous or bitter juices. Self-preservation leads a cousin, the garden monk's hood, even to murderous practices. Since children will put everything within reach into their mouths, they should be warned against biting the buttercup's stem and leaves, that are capable of raising blisters. "Beggars use the juice to produce sores upon their skin," says Mrs. Creevy. A designer might employ these exquisitely formed leaves far more profitably.

By having its nourishment thriftily stored up underground all winter, the Bulbous Buttercup (R. bulbosus) is able to steal a march on its fibrous-rooted sister that must accumulate hers all spring; consequently it is first to flower, coming in early May, and lasting through June. It is a low and generally more hairy plant, but closely resembling the tall buttercup in most respects, and, like it, a naturalized European immigrant now thoroughly at home in fields and roadsides in most sections of the United States and Canada.

Commonest of the early buttercups is the Tufted species (R. fascicularis), a little plant seldom a foot high, found in the woods and on rocky hillsides from Texas and Manitoba east to the Atlantic, flowering in April or May. The long-stalked leaves are divided into from three to five parts; the bright yellow flowers, with rather narrow, distant petals, measure about an inch across. They open sparingly, usually only one or two at a time on each plant, to favor pollination from another one.

Scattered patches of the Swamp or Marsh Buttercup (R. septentrionalis) brighten low, rich meadows also with their large satiny yellow flowers, whose place in the botany even the untrained eye knows at sight. The smooth, spreading plant sometimes takes root at the joints of its branches and sends forth runners, but the stems mostly ascend. The large lower mottled leaves are raised well out of the wet, or above the grass, on long petioles. They have three divisions, each lobed and cleft. From Georgia and Kentucky far northward this buttercup blooms from April to July, opening only a few flowers at a time--a method which may make it less showy, but more certain to secure cross-pollination between distinct plants.