Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

Yellow flowers of birdsfoot trefoil in a field.

 
 

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) is also known as fig buttercup and Ranunculus ficaria. Lesser celandine grows on the forest floor, often near water. It grows and flowers early in the spring impacting native species.

Description

Appearance

Lesser celandine is a short herbaceous perennial. It flowers early in the spring, has yellow flowers, and grows 4–12 inches tall.

Leaves and Stem

The leaves are on short stalks. Leaves are kidney-shaped, with a heart-shaped base, varying in size between 1.6-3.5 inches wide. Leaves are dark green in color and smooth with wavy edges. Along the stems of lesser celandine, spherical white structures (bulbils) form after the plant flowers.

Flowers

Flowers are showy, bright yellow in color, and they have a glossy shine to them. Flowers have 8-12 petals. On the underside of the flower, there are 3 green sepals. In Minnesota, it flowers in early spring, as early as late March and as late as early May.

Seeds and Reproductive Structures

Lesser celandine can produce up to 70 seeds per plant, which can be viable, though its main reproductive strategy is vegetative spread by bulbils (small bulbs that can form between the leaf and stem) and underground tubers.

Roots

The roots of lesser celandine are fibrous, with small, potato-like tubers.

Biology

Lesser celandine grows for a short time in the spring, starting to grow as soon as snow melts, and completing its lifecycle by June. It spends much of its year as underground tubers. It can grow in any light condition – full shade to full sun. It also can grow in any soil condition, though it prefers moist, sandy soils, along streambanks and in floodplain forests. It mainly reproduces vegetatively by tubers and bulbils.

Origin and Spread

Lesser celandine is native to Europe, northern Africa, western Asian and Siberia. It was introduced as an ornamental plant. Lesser celandine is often found along creeks and rivers. Flood events can spread this species by moving tubers and bulbils downstream. Refer to EDDMapS distribution maps for current distribution.

Don't be fooled by these look-alikes

  • Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris (native) – Marsh marigold lacks bulbils and tubers, flowers do not have green sepals at their base, the flowers have 5-9 yellow petal-like sepals, and it can grow up to two feet tall.
  • Prairie buttercup, Ranunculus rhomboideus (native) - An early blooming prairie species which blooms at roughly the same time as both lesser celandine and marsh marigold, but grows in dry habitats, and has fewer petals than lesser celandine (typically they have 5 petals). Additionally, prairie buttercup leaves are not heart shaped, but are widely variable with some leaves more linear and others more diamond or oval shaped.
  • There are several more species of buttercup (Ranunculus species) in Minnesota (native and weedy), but they bloom later in the season than lesser celandine.
  • Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus (invasive) - While greater and lesser celandine have similar common names, they are not closely related. Greater celandine is a biennial plant, with alternate, deeply lobed leaves and small yellow-orange flowers with four petals. It has striking orange sap that can be irritating to skin and eyes and toxic if ingested.
 
Regulatory Classification

Lesser celandine is not regulated. It is proposed to be regulated by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in 2023 as Restricted Noxious Weed which would make it illegal to import, sell, or transport.

Threat to Minnesota
  • Lesser celandine can form dense stands that outcompete native spring species in woodlands and stream edges. This can reduce species diversity, wildlife habitat and forage.
  • Lesser celandine contains chemicals that can be toxic to humans and livestock if consumed in large quantities.
What you should do

One way that invasive plant seeds and fragments can spread is in soil. Sometimes plants are planted purposefully. You can prevent the spread of invasive plants.

PlayCleanGo: Stop Invasive Species in Your Tracks

  • REMOVE plants, animals and mud from boots, gear, pets and vehicle.
  • CLEAN your gear before entering and leaving the recreation site.
  • STAY on designated roads and trails.
  • PLANT non-invasive species.
Native Substitutes
 
Control Methods

Mechanical control can be done by pulling the plant by hand or with equipment such as rakes or cutting blades. Hand-digging is possible with smaller infestations. All bulbils and tubers need to be removed, so hand digging is difficult in larger populations. If pulling plants, have a plan for what you will do with the removed plants as bulbils and tubers can generate new plants. See the Minnesota Department of Agriculture noxious weed disposal website for information on weed disposal recommendations.

Herbicide control can be done using glyphosate. Systemic herbicides are taken up by plants and move within the plant, which can kill leaves, stems, and roots. Treat plants in late winter or early spring to minimize impacts on native species.

Reporting

Report new occurrences by submitting a report through EDDMapS, emailing Report a Pest, calling Report a Pest (1-888-545-6684), or contacting your local county agricultural inspector.

Resources