I think many of us are familiar with Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria…), one of our earliest spring flowers. I remember seeing the bright yellow flowers in the graveyard in Gargrave on our New Year Walk 2019, but this year I have only noticed them in the last few weeks.
I have recently started an online botany course and this morning I have been doing some homework which has required a closer look at this common flower.
I have to write a flower formula for this (I did one for a snowdrop the other day). This process lists the details of the flower parts and helps allocate your flower into a family. Turns out Lesser Celandine is a bit complicated!
This is what I have submitted to my tutor, so no guarantees I won’t change it once I get feedback.
* K3 C9 or 10 A∞ G∞ (not sure official way of representing a varied number of petals, there can be 8-12 in R. ficaria).
So, what does it mean? The star * represents a regular flower with a number of planes of symmetry – actinomorphic. (the alternative is zygomorphic, one plane of symmetry eg a dead nettle/orchid etc.).
K = calyx, the number of sepals
C = corolla, the number of petals
A = androecium – number of stamens - ∞ indicates numerous rather than infinity.
G = gynoecium – if the ovary superior (above the petals and sepals) G is underlined. If the ovary is inferior the symbol is Ĝ. The ∞ shows there are many carpels (the chambers within the ovary).
So, I’ve pulled the flower apart, counted the bits and then gone to my notes to ratify my results. The typical formula for members of the buttercup family, Ranunculus spp., is K5 C5.
I’d already learnt that monocots, like my snowdrop, have 3 sepals, and R. ficaria does only have one seed leaf, but this is because the second one aborts soon after emergence, so it is not a monocot (general appearance e.g. leaf shape, shows this anyway). My Francis Rose Wildflower Key (2006) names it as Ranunculus ficaria, but it turns out most modern flora put it in a genus of its own and name it Ficaria verna. And there are several subspecies! I’m confident the ones I dissected are F. verna subsp. fertilis (shape of petals, streaks of grey anthocyanins on back of petal).
The bright yellow petals are more shiny than most buttercups which is due to a layer of cells containing light-reflecting starch grains below the yellow upper layers of cells. These upper cells contain 5 different types of anthoxanthin pigments dissolved in oil giving the vivid yellow colour. The leaves are unpalatable to herbivorous mammals, and if eaten lead to a build up in a toxin, protoanemomonin, that causes blistering of the mouth and liver damage. However, the root tubers are not toxic and contain a high level of vitamin C and can be cooked like potatoes. So, if things get really bad…
I looked at the celandine in Heaton Woods. Other signs of spring included the greater wood-rush in flower, wood anemone and bistort leaves gathering pace, opposite-leaved golden saxifrage standing out and flowers of the butterbur emerging. These normally appear before the leaves, but Alice noticed the first flush of buds being damaged by the floods a few weeks ago.
A few pics here. (P.S., the plant showing tubers was dug up when I was planting trees, I haven't been foraging)