Ranunculus acris

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Ranunculus acris
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Ranunculaceae
Genus: Ranunculus
R. acris
Binomial name
Ranunculus acris
  • R. acer auct.
  • R. stevenii Beck

Ranunculus acris is a species of flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, and is one of the more common buttercups across Europe and temperate Eurasia. Common names include meadow buttercup,[1] tall buttercup,[2] common buttercup and giant buttercup.


Floral diagram of Ranunculus acris. The light green ovals denote nectaries.

Ranunculus acris is a herbaceous perennial plant that grows to a height of 30 to 70 cm, with ungrooved flowing stems bearing glossy yellow flowers about 25 mm across. There are five overlapping petals borne above five green sepals that soon turn yellow as the flower matures. It has numerous stamens inserted below the ovary. The leaves are compound, with three-lobed leaflets. Unlike Ranunculus repens, the terminal leaflet is sessile. As with other members of the genus, the numerous seeds are borne as achenes.

The rare autumn buttercup (R. aestivalis) is sometimes treated as a variety of this species.[3]

The juice of the plant is semi-poisonous to livestock, causing blistering.[4]


The plant is native to Eurasia, but has been introduced across much of the world so that it now has a circumpolar distribution.[5] It is a naturalized species and often a weed in parts of North America,[6] but it is probably native in Alaska and Greenland.[7] In New Zealand it is a serious pasture weed costing the dairy industry hundreds of millions of dollars.[8] It has become one of the few pasture weeds that has developed a resistance to herbicides.[9]


R. acris is a species characteristic of grazed or mown neutral grassland communities, tending to occupy areas where drainage conditions are intermediate between those favoured by R. bulbosus in drier soils, and R. repens in wetter soils.[10] Its abundance is said to be an indicator of grassland age and continuity but does not appear to be a good competitor in species-rich communities dominated by tall grasses.[11]

The flower buds begin developing in late summer in the year before flowering. Floral development is promoted by low winter temperatures, and the plant passes the winter in a rosette form with small green leaves that appear to resist the ravages of frost.[10] Reproduction occurs from seeds and short thick rhizomes that can split to form daughter plants[11]


In horticulture the species may be regarded as a troublesome weed, colonising lawns and paths. However, it may be a welcome feature of wildflower meadows. The double-flowered cultivar R. acris 'Flore Pleno' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[12][13]


Oils in the plant, probably present in the leaves and stems, contain the glycoside ranunculin, which when ingested can cause abdominal pains and intestinal disorders.[11] When eaten by animals, the buttercups have caused blistering of the tongue and lips, diarrhea and blindness.[14] Other symptoms of poisoning include ventricular fibrillation and respiratory failure.[11]

Uses by Native Americans[edit]

The Abenaki smash the flowers and leaves and sniff them for headaches.[15] The Bella Coola apply a poultice of pounded roots to boils.[16] The Micmac use the leaves for headaches.[17] The Montagnais inhale the crushed leaves for headaches.[18]

The Cherokee use it as a poultice for abscesses, use an infusion for oral thrush, and use the juice as a sedative.[19] They also cook the leaves and eat them as greens.[19]

The Iroquois apply a poultice of the smashed plant to the chest for pains and for colds, take an infusion of the roots for diarrhea,[20] and apply a poultice of plant fragments with another plant to the skin for excess water in the blood.[21]


  1. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  2. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Ranunculus acris". The PLANTS Database (plants.usda.gov). Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  3. ^ USDA Plants Profile: R. aestivalis.
  4. ^ Common Weeds of the United States. New York: Dover. 1971. p. 186. ISBN 0-486-20504-5.
  5. ^ "Ranunculus acris". Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Biological Records Centre and Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  6. ^ Invasive Weeds of King County, Washington
  7. ^ Flora of North America
  8. ^ Bourdôt, GW; Saville DJ (2010-08-31). "Giant buttercup - a threat to sustainable dairy farming in New Zealand". Proceedings of the Australasian Dairy Science Symposium: 355–359.
  9. ^ Cronshaw, Tim (18 May 2012). "Profit-strangling weed immune to hebicides". The Press.
  10. ^ a b Harper JL. 1957. Ranunculus acris L. Journal of Ecology 45(1): 289 – 342.
  11. ^ a b c d Jacobs J. Graves M, Mangold J. 2010. Ecology and management of tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris L.). Bozeman, Montana: United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service
  12. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Ranunculus acris 'Flore Pleno'". Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  13. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 84. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  14. ^ Elias, Thomas S.; Dykeman, Peter A. (2009) [1982]. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods. New York: Sterling. p. 262. ISBN 978-1-4027-6715-9. OCLC 244766414.
  15. ^ Rousseau, Jacques 1947 Ethnobotanique Abenakise. Archives de Folklore 11:145-182 (p. 166)
  16. ^ Smith, Harlan I. 1929 Materia Medica of the Bella Coola and Neighboring Tribes of British Columbia. National Museum of Canada Bulletin 56:47-68 (p. 57)
  17. ^ Chandler, R. Frank, Lois Freeman and Shirley N. Hooper 1979 Herbal Remedies of the Maritime Indians. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1:49-68 (p. 60)
  18. ^ Speck, Frank G. 1917 Medicine Practices of the Northeastern Algonquians. Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Americanists Pp. 303-321 (p. 315)
  19. ^ a b Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey 1975 Cherokee Plants and Their Uses -- A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co. (p. 31)
  20. ^ Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 320)
  21. ^ Rousseau, Jacques 1945 Le Folklore Botanique De Caughnawaga. Contributions de l'Institut botanique l'Universite de Montreal 55:7-72 (p. 42)

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