POPPY FAMILY - Papaveraceae: Greater Celandine; Swallow-wort

Chelidonium majus

Flowers--Lustreless yellow, about 1/2 in. across, on slender pedicels, in a small umbel-like cluster. Sepals 2, soon falling; 4 petals, many yellow stamens, pistil prominent. Stem: Weak, 1 to 2 ft. high, branching, slightly hairy, containing bright orange acrid juice. Leaves: Thin, 4 to 8 in. long, deeply cleft into 5 (usually) irregular oval lobes, the terminal one largest. Fruit: Smooth, slender, erect pods, 1 to 2 in. long, tipped with the persistent style.

Preferred Habitat--Dry waste land, fields, roadsides, gardens, near dwellings.

Flowering Season--April-September.

Distribution--Naturalized from Europe in eastern United States.

Not this weak invader of our roadsides, whose four yellow petals suggest one of the cross-bearing mustard tribe, but the pert little Lesser Celandine, Pilewort, or Figwort Buttercup (Ficaria Ficaria), one of the crowfoot family, whose larger solitary satiny yellow flowers so commonly star European pastures, was Wordsworth's special delight--a tiny, turf-loving plant, about which much poetical association clusters. Having stolen passage across the Atlantic, it is now making itself at home about College Point, Long Island; on Staten Island; near Philadelphia, and maybe elsewhere. Doubtless it will one day overrun our fields, as so many other European immigrants have done.

The generic Greek name of the greater celandine, meaning a swallow, was given it because it begins to bloom when the first returning swallows are seen skimming over the water and freshly ploughed fields in a perfect ecstasy of flight, and continues in flower among its erect seed capsules until the first cool days of autumn kill the gnats and small winged insects not driven to cover. Then the swallows, dependent on such fare, must go to warmer climes where plenty still fly. Quaint old Gerarde claims that the Swallow-wort was so called because "with this herbe the dams restore eyesight to their young ones when their eye be put out" by swallows. Coles asserts "the swallow cureth her dim eyes with Celandine."