Creeping buttercup is one of the four main buttercups found in the UK. There is the Goldilocks buttercup which is a woodland species. Then there is the Meadow buttercup which is found more often in meadows, thus its name and also found in more open spaces is the Bulbous buttercup. We also have some less common species such as the Corn buttercup, Small flowered buttercup, Hairy buttercup and Celery leaved buttercup.
The main characteristic of the creeping buttercup is that it produces runners or stolons like a strawberry and can in that way gradually spread and colonise a wider and wider area. I say gradually, but it grows in my garden as a weed and seems to spread quite fast despite my attempts to pull it up. The stolons are often just below the ground unlike those of strawberries, thus making it more difficult to find them and dig them out. Still in the woods and countryside they are a very welcome addition to our flora.
The flowers of buttercups are regarded by botanists as being primitive, there are several reasons for this. First of all the various parts are all attached separately, ie each petal and each sepal is a separate entity. Not like the tubular flowers of something like a foxglove. Secondly the numbers of each part can vary, creeping buttercups usually have 5 petals per flower but could have as many as 8. The same applies to other parts like the number of stamens and carpels. Finally the arrangement of the stamens and carpels is in a spiral fashion, this is difficult to see from just a casual glance but were you to examine a flower carefully perhaps with the aid of a binocular microscope then this would become apparent. This spiral arrangement is also found in magnolias and is regarded as more primitive because it is the same as the arrangement in pine cones, conifers being less advanced than the flowering plants.
This photo, I have ‘borrowed’ from a website about wild flowers in Ireland, I hope they don’t mind but here is a link to their site. ‘Wildflowers of Ireland’. I will keep a look out for a buttercup flower with 6,7 and 8 petals. Generally all flowers in one area will be the same because all the plants will be genetically identical, having developed by the spread of the stolons.
OK, how do we tell the buttercups from one another. Look at the leaves, they are all complex, ie made up of lots of bits but in the Creeping Buttercup and the Bulbous buttercup the bits are separate they do not link one leaflet to another. So if you have a buttercup where the leaf is entire it must be a Meadow Buttercup. Meadow buttercup can also grow quite tall….over 1 meter. That is Meadow buttercup in the photo to the right.
Now to tell Creeping from Bulbous, well creeping obviously creeps and will have stolons. Bulbous has a swollen bulb at its base but you should not really go digging them up to check if it has a bulb or not. The easy way, if it is flowering, is to look at the sepals. If they curve back along the stem it is Bulbous buttercup, if they stick out and curve up underneath the petals then it is Creeping buttercup.
I did mention Goldilocks buttercup, this is a funny little plant and quite like an anorexic buttercup. The flowers often look quite misshaped and sometimes have no petals or just one or two. Have a look at my page about Goldilocks Buttercup if in doubt.
By the way did you know that Ranunculus comes from Rana which is the scientific name for frogs. So it means ‘little frog’ . How did that come about? Well possibly it is because buttercups often grow in damp places where you might find a frog…. That seems a bit tenuous to me.
Finally most of the Ranunculus family are poisonous, buttercups are poisonous, but not so much as some of them like Monkshood and Aconites.
Following on from the publication of this article I was contacted by a local lady called Anne and she supplied me with a photo she took last year showing a Creeping Buttercup with possibly as many as 13 petals, this is her photo. However more interestingly she sent me a link to a paper which describes research that links the occurrence of creeping buttercup flowers with above the normal number of 5 to the age of grassland. This is the link
You can read the article which is quite interesting but the main finding is that; Each plant of Creeping Buttercup in a field with flowers with additional petals in a sample of 100 was found to equate to approx. 7 years in age of the field since it was first planted or allowed to become fallow. (This is similar to the technique for aging hedgerows based on the number of woody species found in a 30M length of the hedge.)
Click to see other flowers from the Wye valley woodlands