Skip to main content

Lesser celandine

(Ranunculus ficaria)

Photo of lesser celandine
Photo credit: Robert Bierman

The herbaceous ground is covered with kidney to heart-shaped leaves and showy, daisy-like yellow flowers. Rapidly reproduces vegetatively by abundant tubers and above-ground bulblets.

 Overview map of prohibited classification in WI
Prohibited (red) counties

Other names for this plant include:

  • Common names: fig buttercup, pilewort, small celandine, lesser crowfoot, buttercup, dusky maiden
  • Scientific names: Ficaria verna, Ficaria ficaria, Ranunculus ficaria var. bulbifera, Ranunculus ficaria var. ficaria, Ranunculus ficaria ssp. chrysocephalus

Classification in Wisconsin: Prohibited

Ecological Threat
  • Thrives in partial sun and moist soils but is also tolerant of drier, sunny sites.
  • Invades forests, wetlands, riparian areas, upland areas, and disturbed areas such as lawns.
  • Infestations of this plant eliminate spring ephemeral communities in woodlands, which includes sensitive native plants.
  • They are noted as invasive in neighboring states with similar habitats. Highly invasive in northern Ohio. In one Cleveland park, approximately 400 acres are dominated by this plant.
  • Quickly reproduces and spreads into new areas through bulbils, tubers, or seeds.
  • Plants are poisonous to livestock and humans.

Leaves & stems: Leaves are dark-green, shiny, and kidney to heart-shaped on short stalks. Leaves emerge from a basal rosette in early spring before the canopy trees leaf out.

Flowers: Flowers are bright butter-yellow, glossy, and usually have eight petals (sometimes up to 12) arranged around a central disk. Numerous 1" flowers are borne singly on stalks. Flowers open in early spring, March to April.

Fruits & seeds: This species does produce viable seeds, up to 70 seeds per plant. After flowering, aerial vegetation dies, and entire plants can die by June.

Roots: Above-ground whitish bulblets are produced on the stem axils, usually forming after flowering. Below-ground rhizomes are thick, finger-like tubers. These storage organs keep the plant alive through summer-fall when above-ground portions have senesced.

Similar species: Lesser celandine resembles marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) but is much smaller. Marsh marigold is a native wetland plant found throughout the eastern United States. Marsh marigold contains 5-9 yellow "petals" (actually sepals), while lesser celandine often has eight petals. Marsh marigold also does not produce tubers or bulblets.

Lesser celandine varieties include 'Pencarn' and 'Buttered Popcorn.' Notable traits of these varieties are leaves variegated with silver markings and double flower heads. These varieties are considered equally as invasive.

This species is unrelated to greater celandine (Chelidonium majus).

  • Hand-dig individual plants, being careful to remove all bulblets and tubers. Hand-digging is difficult in larger populations due to the high degree of soil disturbance and abundance of small tubers.
  • Monitor the site in subsequent years for residual plants.
  • Herbicide treatments must be carried out early in the spring, before the emergence of native spring ephemerals and amphibians.
  • Systemic herbicides such as glyphosate are effective. Apply a 1.5% rate of a 39%-41% glyphosate isopropylamine salt (e.g., Rodeo®) for wetland areas mixed with water and a non-ionic surfactant to foliage.
Sources for content: