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Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria L.)

Also known as fig buttercup; also classified as Ficaria verna.

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Lesser Celandine
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A perennial spring ephemeral flower Native to Europe and Western Asia, introduced in North America where it has become an ecologically-damaging invasive plant. Uncommon and scattered in many areas, but has become a dominant plant in parts of the mid-Atlantic through Massachussets.

Range - Expand

Introduced or Not Present

This tentative map is based on our own research. It may have limited data on Canada and/or Mexico, and there is some subjectivity in our assignment of plants as introduced vs. expanded. Read more in this blog post.


In North America, lesser celandine is found both in wild areas and anthropogenic habitats. It is predominately found in floodplains and bottomlands, on sites that are temporarily inundated, but not persistently under standing water, during its growing season of late winter to early spring. In these conditions it often forms large monocultures and is a dominant component of the vegetation. It is occasional in mesic upland forests, where it is usually restricted to sites that are locally-poorly-drained but lack accumulation of thick litter.

It is also found in lawns and unmowed gardens, where it usually colonizes exposed or disturbed ground. It is able to survive in mowed lawns, especially in wet, partly-shaded areas.

Lesser celandine is largely indifferent to the lighting conditions of an overhead tree canopy, as most of its lifecycle is completed before trees leaf out. As such it can be found in full sun, under closed-canopy forests, and all lighting conditions in-between. However it is cannot survive in areas where either a tree canopy or dense shrub understory of evergreens block light from reaching the ground.

Humans have hugely increased the habitat for this plant by mowing riparian areas, and by removing coarse leaf litter, often creating massive monocultures of this plant.

Life Cycle

This species is a perennial, but has a narrow window of time in which it is active, and is dormant for most of the year.

Leaves sprout from bulbils (mini bulbs) in late winter or early spring. Growth is rapid and the plant flowers fairly soon after sprouting. The foliage dies down in early summer.

Many plants do not produce fertile seed, and instead reproduce only vegetatively, by producing above-ground bulbils, which are distributed by water and also by humans. The bulbils root and grow into new plants.

Because of the narrow time-period in which this plant is active, it is highly sensitive to conditions during this time. It often thrives most in woodland areas where both trees and any competing herbaceous vegetation leaf out later, giving it ample light during its active period.


Lesser celandine is one of the most difficult plants to control, but can be effectively controlled through a variety of strategies. The largest challenge is usually timing: this plant often emerges, completes its growing season, and goes dormant before most people begin managing property. The window for effective control is thus not only narrow, but earlier than most land managers are accustomed to.

Small populations can be controlled by digging up individual plants. However, due to the plant's small size and tiny bulbs, digging is often more labor-intensive relative to the total amount of biomass being removed. Care must also be taken to remove and destroy all bulbs, which is difficult as mature plants often reproduce vegetatively, producing additional bulbs underground as well as above-ground, attached to leaf axils. Careless attempts at mechanical control can sometimes worsen infestations if they spread bulbs around and create soil disturbance, a condition in which this plant thrives.

Systemic factors are often key for reducing this species on sites where it is abundant. Coarse, deep leaf litter has a slight inhibiting effect on this plant, reducing its flowering and seed production. Competing vegetation, particular that with evergreen basal foliage, can inhibit the growth of this plant. The most competitive plants with it include cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) and wildryes (Elymus sp.), with riverbank wildrye (Elymus riparius) and Virginia wildrye (Elymus virginicus) usually overlapping most with it in habitat. These species all emerge earlier and have taller basal foliage and aggressive root systems. Other species that are slightly less competitive but still compete with it include honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis), great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and golden ragwort (Packera aurea).


This plant was initially planted as a landscaping plant, where it was valued for its flowers. Planting it is now widely frowned upon, and is illegal in some states.

Ranunculus ficaria (Lesser Celandine) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Ranunculus ficaria (Lesser Celandine) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Lesser Celandine | iNaturalist (About This Site)

Ranunculus ficaria (fig buttercup) | CABI Invasive Species Compendium (About This Site)

Ficaria verna | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

Ranunculus ficaria | NatureServe Explorer (About This Site)

Ranunculus ficaria | Flora of North America (About This Site)

Ranunculus ficaria L. | Plants of the World Online (POWO) (About This Site)

Ranunculus ficaria | Missouri Plants (About This Site)

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Photo © , CC BY-SA 4.0.
Photo © , CC BY-SA 4.0.