The members of this large and handsome family vary so much in appearance that it is difficult for the amateur to realize that they are nearly, related. In fact they have no very distinctive characteristics. They are all herbs, except Clematis, which is shrubby, and all have bitter juice, which is never milky or colored, numerous stamens and usually several pistils, which are superior and one-celled, bearing a single style, and all the parts of the flower are separate from each other and inserted on the receptacle. The flowers are often of eccentric forms, with spurs or hoods; sometimes they dispense with petals altogether and instead have colored sepals which resemble petals. The leaves are of all sorts and shapes, usually more or less lobed and cut, but have no stipules and often their bases clasp the stem. The fruit is an akene, pod, or berry. Many of our most beautiful and popular garden flowers are included in this family, which is large and distributed throughout the world, but not abundant in the tropics.

There are numerous kinds of Ranunculus, mostly perennials, with fibrous roots, growing in temperate and cold regions. Ours have yellow or white flowers, with three to five sepals and from three to fifteen petals, each of the petals with a nectar-gland at its base; the numerous pistils developing into a roundish or oblong head of akenes. The leaves are variously cut and lobed, the stem leaves alternate. Some sorts grow in the water and some have creeping stems. Some kinds of Ranunculus are liable to be confused with some sorts of Cinquefoils, but the calyx of a Buttercup has no bractlets, as has that of a Cinquefoil. The Latin name means "little frog," as these plants like marshes.