Bloodroot provides a lesson
Multi-season woodland perennial

Acres of celandines

As far as the eye can see… Celandines, carpeting the damp woods at Black Brook Park in Union County, New Jersey. We were out there the other day, taking a family stroll.

And after marveling at vast acres of skunk cabbage growing along the muddy stream, we turned a bend in the trail and, on slightly drier ground, were the celandines, like a vast green ballroom carpet scattered with yellow confetti. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place.

Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, is a widespread British native perennial with roots like tiny dahlia tubers. Very early into growth, its waxy green leaves are topped with flowers like buttercups. Later in the season it completely dies away. The whole plant rarely reaches 8in/20cm in height. It’s common wildflower and an irritating garden weed in Britain, spreading by seed but also when the clusters of tiny tubers break up. RanunculusficariaBrazenHussy700

In North America it’s known as the Fig Buttercup – from the shape of its bright green leaves and its yellow flowers - and is becoming widespread in the east and Pacific North West. Its rated as “Invasive, banned” in Connecticut and “Prohibited” in Massachusetts. Looks fantastic, but big big trouble: like the kid you saw at the bus stop on the way to school…

At Black Brook Park it was present in acres of vast drifts although in places spring beauty, Claytonia virginica, was holding its own. But it’s plants exactly like claytonia, the early spring ephemerals, that are smothered by the mass of dense early celandine foliage. However, I was also surprised to see a few patches of snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, looking lush as their foliage stretched after flowering last month.

I could have spent all day examining this huge population of celandines, but a short look indicated that they were very uniform, apart from a few with unusually narrow petals and a few with paler flowers.

Ranunculusficaria-foliage23009In Britain, it’s different. While everywhere at Black Brook Park, New Jersey, the plants had plain green leaves, in Britain the foliage can vary enormously. I picked the leaves in the picture (left, click to enlarge) from a few hundred yards along a quite Sussex lane. The bronze-leaved variety that Christopher Lloyd named ‘Brazen Hussey’ (above, click to enlarge) was found wild in a wood on his property. Other unusual forms, like doubles, also turn up.

But here’s the thing… That sunny carpet of color, disappearing into the distance in that New Jersey park, looked absolutely magical. Is it less beautiful because we know that the plant is not a native?