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Buttercup Family

Canada anemone and several other members of the buttercup family are or will be blooming soon. The buttercup family consists of over 2,000 species widely distributed around the globe. They may be characterized as mainly herbaceous plants with alternate leaves that may be compound or lobed. And although the number of petals and sepals may be quite variable, in some cases the petals are absent, but the sepals look like petals. Another interesting aspect of the flowers in this family is the many pistils (and stamens) that are clustered at the center of the flower.

There are over thirty species of buttercups native to North Dakota. They occupy a wide range of habitats from lakes, marshes, and meadows, to upland prairie and woodlands. Some of the more common members here in North Dakota include pasque flower, Canada anemone, several species of crowfoots, columbine, meadowrue, larkspur, and clematis.

There are about a dozen wetland buttercups (in the genus Ranunculus) which are or will be in bloom soon. They are among the more conspicuous members of the buttercup family in our region. They are generally yellow or white flowered plants blooming perhaps above the surface of open water or in wet meadows and other similarly wet habitats. White water crowfoot, for example, has been conspicuous on the water in some areas in recent years.

Yellow water buttercup (Ranunculus flabellaris) as well as some other aquatic buttercups are known for their heterophylly. The leaves of the plant can differ markedly if the leaves are underwater, on the water surface, or above. The submersed leaves look thread-like, similar to that of coontail. Leaves floating or above the water are broad and often rounded in shape. Oftentimes one can observe these different leaves on the same plant! It is quite a curiosity!

Now might be a good time to become more familiar with the buttercup family. Many wildflower guides and other resources are available through your local library or bookstore as well as online. Whatever your approach, the buttercups will be putting on their floral show for all of us to enjoy. All you have to do is go check them out.

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of “Natural North Dakota” and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005 he has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for North Dakota’s newest newspaper, the Lake Metigoshe Mirror. His columns also appear under “The Naturalist” in several other weekly newspapers across North Dakota.
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