This species is sometimes called the greater celandine to distinguish it from the lesser celandine common in the Old Country. It is also known as the wart-flower, devil's-milk, and swallow-wort.
The celandine is a biennial or perennial herb with deeply-lobed leaves, one to two feet high, so named from an ancient Greek word meaning swallow, because its flowers appear with the coming of the swallows. The whole plant is somewhat brittle, and a saffron-coloured juice oozes out wherever it is broken. The flowers are rather small, bright yellow; sepals two, hairy, falling when the flower expands as is usual in the poppy family; petals four, stamens sixteen to twenty-four. The number two and its multiples is another characteristic of this group of plants. The seed pods are long and narrow, opening from the bottom upwards. Ripe seed pods are often seen with the flowers, as the plant continues blooming from May to September.
It has been naturalized from Europe and is found in rich, damp soil about towns, chiefly in Ontario.
In reference to the greater celandine, H. C. Long says: "This common plant exhales an unpleasant odour, and when bruised or broken shows the presence of a yellowish acrid juice, which becomes red immediately on exposure to the air. It is an old medicinal drug plant, but is dangerous, being emetic and purgative, with a strongly irritating effect on the digestive tract. Animals are but rarely likely to take it, and no record of the death of domesticated animals has been found." The plant contains the bitter alkaloids chelidonine, chelerythrine, and protopine.
The action of this plant is acrid, irritant and narcotic, emetic and purgative. Esser remarks that when chelerythrine is introduced on the nasal mucous membrane, it causes violent sneezing, and taken internally causes vomiting.
Photo - F. Fyles.