One of the last and most dramatic sights before flying back to Pennsylvania this week was this cast field of buttercups alongside the River Nene in Northamptonshire. I’ve been passing this field for many years and they’ve never looked so spectacular. Many acres of them fill the meadows and the golden pollen covers your legs as you walk through.
This is the Meadow Buttercup, Ranunculus acris, and there’s a British children’s game, which I remember but which is largely now forgotten. You pick a flower and hold it under the child’s chin; if the yellow colour is reflected on the skin it means the child likes butter.
Found in every county in Britain and Ireland, and now established in almost every state and province of North America, the herbalist Nicholas Culpepper (1616–1654) remarked: “They grow common everywhere. Unless you run your Head into a Hedge, you cannot but see them as you walk.”
Unexpectedly perhaps, the Meadow Buttercup is unpalatable to grazing animals – it’s toxic, but also causes soreness of the mouth so it’s rare for much to be eaten - and in many meadows has been eradicated with weed killers to “improve” the quality of the grazing. In hay meadows, however, buttercups are not a problem as the toxic effect disappears as the cut plants dry out.
In Northamptonshire, not far from where these pictures were taken, Meadow Buttercup is still known as Crowpeckle and other local names around the country include Goldweed, Soldier Buttons, Butter and Cheese, Crazy Bet, and Teacups. Crowfoot, referring to the shape of the leaves, was the most common name until Buttercup became widely used in the eighteenth century.
Needless to say, when so many thousands grow together unusual forms have been selected and named: ‘Citrinus’ (pale yellow) ‘Flore Pleno’ (green-centred, tightly double flowers), ‘Stevenii’ (unusually tall and vigorous), ‘Sulphurea’ (pale yellow with dark yellow stamens) plus two variegated forms: Cricket’ (streaked and mottled in yellow-green, brightest in winter) and ‘Jaffa’ (more variegation, so the effect is brighter).
‘Flore Pleno’ in particular is good in the garden, though in rich soil it can grow too tall the stems may be unable to support the weight of the double flowers.
Thanks to Carol Parfitt for the picture and to Bob for posing on the path.