Lesser Celandine, (Ficaria verna) is probably the first woodland plant to come into flower each year. There are some more garden species like Aconites and Snowdrops which maybe pip them to the post, but Lesser Celandine is a very early blooming woodland plant.
This year I have had some which grow as ‘weeds’ in my garden flowering right through the winter. In Ninewells wood they appear towards the end of February, but everything is a bit slow there as it is higher and more exposed. Down in the Wye valley they will be about 6 weeks ahead.
Lesser Celandine is in the buttercup family the Ranunculaceae, it looks like a delicate buttercup, it is yellow of course, but more of a lemon yellow rather than the rich butter yellow of the buttercups. Also the petals are somewhat thinner and longer so the cup shape is not so pronounced. As the flowers age they can become white, they also have the ability to close up in cold, darker conditions.
The leaves are heart shaped and often patterned, (you can see this in the photo of the plants in my garden taken in the middle of December). They can even be slightly variegated. My Father had some particularly attractive ones growing in his garden which he evidently ‘acquired’ from Chartwell, where Winston Churchill lived. I think many gardeners of his era thought nothing of ‘liberating’ a sample of a desirable plant from other peoples gardens that they were visiting.
Also I think he reckoned he had done his bit for Winston and Britain, so a small sample of Celandine was OK.
Apart from producing lots of little seeds per seed head, they also produce tiny little tubers, which look like miniature potatoes, or very similar to the small brown cocoons that you see when you disturb an ants nest. So it can spread very quickly and it is also quite difficult to eradicate from your garden should you wish to.
In the text books they mention that there are two subspecies of Celandine, one which reproduces with seeds but not tubers (Ficaria verna Ssp fertilis)and the other which is predominantly asexual, producing tubers but no seeds (Ficaria verna Ssp verna)….. Hmmm, I am not sure about this, I think that I have come across plants with both seeds and tubers.
So I went into the garden and dug one up and as you can see it has a developing seed head and in among the roots are clearly visible the little tubers.
Lesser celandine was once believed to be a remedy for haemorrhoids and was known as ‘pilewort’. It is also high in vitamin C and was used to prevent scurvy.