Thursday, September 3, 2009

Australian Buttercup

Ranunculus lappaceus
“Ranunculus” means “tadpole”, and refers to the damp habitat preferred by buttercups generally - so we can be surprised to find our tough little native buttercup growing on a sunny, grassy hillside.
This is its native habitat, however, and the plants would have been much more common in this sort of site before Europeans arrived with their buttercup-munching stock.
Australia has 30 species of native buttercups, most of them restricting themselves, in typical buttercup fashion, to wet soil or very shallow water. They are all suitable for garden planting but the flower quality varies. The flowers of R. lappaceus have broad petals which form a full cup, making them perhaps the prettiest of Australian buttercup flowers.
They are very similar in size (15 - 40mm diameter) and appearance to the flowers of the introduced European buttercup, Ranunculus repens, which we sometimes see in Australian gardens and weed books. (The latter is a spreading, invasive plant in damp places, but is less seen here nowadays as it can’t cope with drought.)
The pretty flowers of our local, combined with its hardiness to drought and frost, and its long flowering season (spring to autumn), make it a very suitable plant for use in our local gardens. Where conditions are good it self-seeds readily, but as it lacks the spreading habit it is not invasive.
Once established, this little perennial is a tough plant which will even regrow from its roots after a fire.
Seeds of the species can be bought on the internet, but it would be better to get plants of local provenance, as these would be hardier to drought.
Buttercup flowers are very shiny, and a child’s game consists of holding a flower under someone’s chin to tell whether they like eating butter. If they do, their skin will show yellow when the flower comes near it. (The sheen of a healthy child’s skin will always ensure that the yellow reflection of the flower shows up, especially if the game is played in the sunshine.)

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