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When you were a child, did you sit in the yard with your friends or siblings and stick dandelions under your chin? If your chin glowed yellow, it meant you liked someone. Or… that you really liked butter. Well, across much of the world, this is a practice largely done with buttercup flowers.
Why can they be interchangeably used with this childhood garden game? Well, because they are bold wildflowers. They grow prolifically, like weeds. Whether you grow them in your garden or not, you’ll see them everywhere. However, most in Europe claim the buttercup is the only valid flower for this little under the chin game. Why? What makes them so much better than the dandelion?
Despite growing just as wild, buttercups aren’t considered weeds. They are also considered far superior in beauty. And, for the purposes of the game, they have a shiny, waxy coating on their petals that reflects light. It’s this quality that makes this little golden flower so unique. Below we’ll take a look at the interesting mythology and meaning of the buttercup flower. We’ll also take a look at the most popular varieties of buttercups and how to grow them.
What is a Buttercup Flower?
Buttercups belong to the Ranunculus genus, which contains approximately 400 species. Despite the variations, they carry many of the same characteristics. For most varieties, buttercups have slightly curving yellow petals with a waxy coating. This waxy coating comes from reflective cells just below the petal surface. Typically, buttercups grow up to 2 feet tall, and their flowers reach only 1 inch wide.
The way these petals curve creates a pool of sweet nectar in the center. This attracts insects for pollination. Another interesting fact is they have many stamens rather than the common five. These plume out of a slightly green center, which consists of a cluster of pistils. These pistils are the flower’s female parts, which will develop into achenes (small dry fruits).
These interesting flowers can appear in woods, fields, gardens, lawns, roadsides. Certain varieties can appear in the mountains and rocky slopes from Alaska to New Mexico.
Meaning of Buttercup Flowers
Buttercups appear in songs, games, and legends throughout time. One of the most popular legends comes from Libya. In this legend, a young boy named Ranunculus had a beautiful, entrancing singing voice. One day, in his stunning yellow and green robes, he sang to a group of wood nymphs. While singing, he became so entranced by his own voice that he collapsed and never woke. Orpheus then transformed him into a buttercup flower.
In another legend, a group of fairies asked an old miser to share his gold with them. When he refused the fairies cut a hole in his sack with a blade of grass. Not noticing this, the man walked away, sprinkling his coins across the field as he went. Each one that fell sprouted into buttercup flowers.
Another story is of a coyote who tossed his eyes into the air one morning, and an eagle swooped in and stole them. Not knowing what to do, the coyote made new eyes with buttercup flowers. This has resulted in buttercup flowers named “coyote’s eyes” in various parts of the U.S.
Other, more down to earth stories, can exist though. One of these stories is that cows that grazed on buttercups produced the sweetest milk. Of course, this cannot be true, since they are toxic to livestock. Then there is the childhood lore- holding the flower under your chin to reveal your love for butter.
In the middle ages, buttercups were a treatment for lunatics. This was so common that Shakespeare called them “cuckoo-buds”. Today, the name buttercup still holds a precious place in our culture. The Foundations, for instance, have a song titled after the flower. The lyrics “Build Me Up Buttercup” instantly spark a chorus of singers. Another use includes the name of PowderPuff Girls cartoon character Buttercup. And their poisonous attributes have appeared in a PC game titled Undertale.
Buttercup Flower Meaning
The legends surrounding the buttercup don’t lend too much insight into what they could mean. Which brings up this question: why do flowers have meanings at all? Well, for much of humanity’s time here on Earth, entertainment came in the form of stories and art. These were ways of expressing oneself where nothing else could. Out of this need for expression, flowers arose as a symbol of love. But often the constant need for stories and expression gave flowers other meanings. The meaning of buttercup flowers comes down to just four things:
- Neatness- for its fine lines and organized petals
- Childlikeness- because the flowers are small and bright
- Humility- for gaining attention without the extravagance
- Charm- sent to someone you like but do not love. They are small but beautiful and well-liked flowers, but they are everywhere
Types of Buttercups
The Ranunculus family is vast, containing more than 400 species. Among them are buttercups. Most varieties of buttercups are perennial, but they can also be annuals, biennials, herbaceous, aquatic, or terrestrial. As perennials, buttercups have runners that will spread out to develop new plants. This is what makes it possible for kids around the world to stick the little flowers under their chins. They may be dainty, but they are hardy, and they are everywhere.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the many popular varieties of buttercups. You may find a few to include in your garden this year:
Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus)
Bulbous buttercups are rather large, growing up to 16 inches tall with rounder bases. Their foliage is stalkless, and their flowers have five petals in bright yellow. They’re often found in the meadows and pastures of Scotland and England. But they can also grow in sand dunes and dry soils.
Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
Creeping buttercups grow slightly smaller than bulbous buttercups, reaching heights of 12 inches. Though they can spread up to two feet wide. Their leaves are gold or lime green and have a snowflake shape. Their flowers are bright yellow, with wide, round petals and equally bright centers.
Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis)
Early buttercups are also known as Prairie of Tufted buttercups. They grow throughout North American prairies and woods. The flowers are still bright yellow, but their petals are long and thin. They grow to only a foot, but can handle many different lighting conditions. Making them ideal for flowerbeds.
Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris)
(photo source: First Nature)
Meadow Buttercups are also known as Tall buttercups. This is because they grow to an impressive 3 feet in height. Their basal leaves are deeply cut and toothed. Though they grow tall and stocky, the colorful blossoms are rather small, spreading only 1 inch wide. Along with their small size, they also retain the sun yellow, round and wide petals of most buttercups. They’re quite prolific throughout the United States. Often found in damn meadows and forest clearings.
Persian Buttercup (Ranunculus asiaticus)
Persian buttercups grow two feet tall and two feet wide. They look nothing like the quintessential buttercup. In fact, the flowers of a Persian buttercup resemble the flappy, globe-like peony. Another thing that separates them is that they come in many different colors. Because of this, they’re often selected as cut flowers for events and bouquets.
Winter Buttercup (Eranthis Cilicica)
Winter buttercups are one of the most adorable varieties of buttercup. They are small, growing to only 4 inches, with a delightful cup shape and long stamen. They do well with a lot of sun and room to grow, since they re-seed well on their own. Because of this, they are great for lining borders or the sides of buildings.
Swamp buttercup (Ranunculus septentrionalis)
The swamp buttercup is an herbaceous perennial that usually grows in or near water. Its flowers are very similar to other varieties. But their leaves are deeply cut and sprawled over the ground. They only grow to about 6 inches in height, but their stems can reach heights of 1 foot.
Aconite Leaf Buttercup (Ranunculus aconitifolius)
(photo source: Plant World Seeds)
Aconite leaf buttercups grow to an impressive two feet tall and can spread nearly as wide. They’re a bit different than other buttercups, due to their snow-white petals. They retain the same shape and size as other buttercups though. Another difference is that they have slightly hairy leaves and form in clumps. They’ll grow nearly anywhere-along mountains, ditches, streams, and meadows.
Littleleaf Buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus L.)
Also known as the Kidneyleaf, the Littleleaf is vastly different than others on this list. Their leaves are small and shaped like kidneys. Their flowers are also very small, with dainty little petals spread far apart. Lightly green stamen ring around the petals. Despite small leaves and flowers, their ridged stems can reach 8-20 inches.
Fall Buttercup (Ranunculus Aestivalis)
Fall buttercups, also known as Autumn buttercups, grow up to 2 feet, with 1-inch yellow flowers. While it looks like other buttercups, it’s separated by elevation and distribution. It only appears in western Utah, along the Sevier River Valley, at elevations between 6,300-7,000 feet. It also tends to grow on raised hummocks of soil that are dry, but surround by wet meadow.
Anemone Buttercup (Ranunculus Anemoneus)
Anemone Buttercups look more like a variety of daisy than buttercup. They feature long, spindly thin white petals and a yellow center. These flowers grow to over 2 inches wide and sit on very robust stems. They only appear in a narrow band in Australia, along the Great Dividing Range.
Goldilocks Buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus)
(photo source: Nature Spot)
Goldilocks isn’t just one variety of buttercup flower. In fact, it’s a common name used for a diverse group of up to 300 microspecies grown in Findland. Like other buttercups, their flowers are yellow, usually with 5 well-spread petals. But their leaves are very long and stalky, looking almost like hair until the base. Around the base there are wide basal leaves that give this plant an untamed, shrubby look.
Corn Buttercup (Ranunculus Arvensis)
Also known as the devil-on-all-sides or scratch bur, it is often considered a weed. They were once prolific across England, but are rarely seen now. If seen, it’s in arable, clay-like soil. They’re recognized by pale yellow flowers and slightly ruffled petals.
California Buttercup (Ranunculus Californicus)
The California buttercup, as its name suggests, is seen all over California. Though they do appear in parts of Oregon. What’s interesting about this flower is that it has 9-17 petals, as opposed to the normal 5 of other buttercups. Also, these lemon yellow petals are much glossier than other buttercups. These little flowers sit on 2-foot branching stems. They make great border plants or cut flowers.
Frogbit Buttercup (Ranunculus Hydrocharoides)
(photo source: Calflora)
Frogbit buttercups are an aquatic variety of buttercup. They grow in water or wetlands. This also includes marshes, streams, and along lakes. They grow to about 6 inches tall, with shiny green leaves and even shinier yellow petals.
Kashubian Buttercup (Ranunculus Cassubicus)
Kashubian buttercups grow to about two and a half feet in height. Their golden yellow flowers are one inch wide. Their basal leaves are long, kidney-shaped, and hairy underneath. They’re commonly found in the Baltics, northern Russia, and the Alps. They’re named after the Cassubian tribes, which once occupied the region that is now Poland.
Birdfoot Buttercup (Ranunculus Pedatifidus)
Also known as the Northern buttercup or the surefoot buttercup. Birdfoot buttercups appear mostly in northern North America and Norway. It grows to 18 inches in height with divided leaf blades and hairy foliage. Their flowers contain 10 bright yellow petals, though they may lack petals altogether. Living in such arctic regions, they’re very hardy. Great for brightening your garden in colder climates.
Yellow Water Buttercup (Ranunculus Flabellaris)
Yellow water buttercups look similar to most buttercup varieties. They have delicate yellow flowers only an inch wide. What makes this plant so unique is that it is largely submerged in water, except the flowers and some of the leaves.
Sagebrush Buttercup (Ranunculus Glaberrimus)
(Photo source: Growiser)
Sagebrush buttercups grow to nearly six inches. They feature dainty yellow flowers that look much like other buttercups. What makes them different is that they don’t tend to hold a lot of bush around them. Instead, they sprout like dandelions, on a single sturdy stem. They grow prolifically through much of western North America, and British Columbia.
Lapland Buttercup (Ranunculus Lapponicus)
Lapland buttercups contain just one half inch yellow flower on a very thin, bare stem. This stem lays along the ground, forming roots and creating larger colonies. Their leaves are round and basal, with a waxy surface. It helps them thrive in the cold arctic climates they are native to. You’ll usually find them in the northern parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine.
Lobb’s Buttercup (Ranunculus Lobbii)
Lobb’s buttercups is an aquatic variety of buttercup. It’s native to western North America and British Columbia. They grow in shallow water areas such as ponds and can reach 31 inches in height. They also sprout white ranunculus flowers rather than the typical yellow. Though they still have similar shape and size.
Macoun’s Buttercup (Ranunculus Macounii)
Macoun’s buttercups grow prolifically in woodlands, marshes, and scrubs. They’re semi-aquatic, able to grow in water, alongside water, or in muddy areas. Their flowers are shiny and yellow, like many ranunculus species. But they are only a centimeter long.
Straightbeak Buttercup (Ranunculus orthorhynchus)
(photo source: CalPhotos)
Straightbeak buttercups are native to most of western North America. They grow largely in moist areas, meadows, and marshes. This variety grows quite tall- up to half a meter long. Their flowers are small. But they form an unfamiliar but delightful cup shape with 5-8 shiny yellow petals.
Spinyfruit Buttercup (Ranunculus Muricatus)
Spinyfruit buttercups are also called rough-fruited buttercup and spinyfruit buttercup. They’re called this because their fruit is spiny and clustered. The flowers on the spinyfruit are so small they are hardly noticeable amid their large leaves. They can appear across Europe, Africa, Australia, and the western United States.
Gorman’s Buttercup (Ranunculus Gormanii)
Gorman’s buttercup flowers have the same bright yellow petals as the other varieties. But their petals are stretched and thin. They also have a lot of shrubbery growing underneath. They grow in mostly moist, mountainous areas such as the Cascade Range.
How To Grow Buttercup Flowers
Wild buttercup flowers grow like weeds. Appearing across various parts of the world, across wildly different terrains. Thus, these flowers are easy to grow and maintain if you want to plant them in your home garden. Here are the steps for growing buttercup flowers:
- Sow the seeds during spring on nursery trays
- Cover seeds in a thin layer of soil once sown
- Cover in plastic
- Refrigerate for 3 weeks
- Take out seedlings
- Switch plastic for a glass cover and keep in shaded area
- Once seedlings appear in a few weeks, plant them in chosen area
Now that you know everything about the vivid yellow buttercups, learn about other types of flowers and flower meanings from Flower Glossary.