Ranunculus ficaria Linnaeus
* Species Plantarum 1:550. 1753
Lesser celandine, (Ranunculus ficaria, syn. Ficaria grandiflora Robert Ficaria verna Huds.) is a low-growing, hairless perennial plant, with fleshy dark green, heart-shaped leaves. The plant is found throughout Europe and west Asia and is now introduced in North America. It prefers bare, damp ground and in the UK it is often a persistent garden weed.The flowers are yellow, turning white as they age.
Ranunculus ficaria exists in both diploid (2n=16) and tetraploid (2n=32) forms which are very similar in appearance. However, the tetraploid type prefer more shady locations and frequently develops bulbils at the base of the stalk. These two variants are sometimes referred to as distinct sub-species,R. ficaria ficaria and R. ficaria bulbifer respectively.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, celandine comes from the Latin chelidonia, meaning swallow: it was said that the flowers bloomed when the swallows returned and faded when they left. The name Ranunculus is Late Latin for "little frog," from rana "frog" and a diminutive ending. This probably refers to many species being found near water, like frogs.
According to Gilbert White, a diarist writing around 1800 in the Hampshire village of Selborne, the plants came out on February 21st, but it is more commonly reported to flower from March until May, and is sometimes called the "spring messenger" as a consequence.
In non-native locations
In many parts of the northern United States and Canada, lesser celandine is cited as an invasive species.
The plant used to be known as Pilewort, as it was used to treat haemorrhoids. Supposedly the knobbly tubers of the plant resemble piles, and according to the Doctrine of signatures this resemblance suggests that pilewort could be used to cure piles. The German vernacular Scharbockskraut (Scurvywort) derives from the use of the early leaves, which are high in vitamin C, to prevent scurvy.
The plant is widely used in Russia and is sold in most pharmacies as a dried herb. The Russian name for it is "chistotel" (which means "clean body") and it is brewed and used in baths to help cure dermatatis and other skin irritations. is effective against rosacea. Can also be consumed inside carefully as can be poisonous if not careful.
References in literature
The poet William Wordsworth was very fond of the flower and it inspired him to write three poems including the following from his ode to the celandine:
I have seen thee, high and low,
Upon Wordsworth's death it was proposed that a celandine be carved on his memorial plaque inside the church of Saint Oswald at Grasmere, but unfortunately the Greater celandine Chelidonium majus was mistakenly used.
C. S. Lewis mentions celandines in a key passage of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Aslan comes to Narnia and the whole wood passes "in a few hours or so from January to May". The children notice "wonderful things happening. Coming suddenly round a corner into a glade of silver birch trees Edmund saw the ground covered in all directions with little yellow flowers - celandines".
A reference appears in Tony Hendra's The Messiah of Morris Avenue: "He was kneeling on a carpet of violets and celandines." (p. 144)
J. R. R. Tolkien mentions this plant (and many others!) when he describes spring in Ithilien: "Great ilexes of huge girth stood dark and solemn in wide glades with here and there among them hoary ash-trees, and giant oaks just putting out their brown-green buds. About them lay long launds of green grass dappled with celandine and anemones, white and blue, now folded for sleep; and there were acres populous with the leaves of woodland hyacinths: already their sleek bell-stems were thrusting through the mould." The Two Towers, Book IV, Ch 7, 'Journey to the Cross-roads'
1. ^ "Swallow". Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1989. http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50035272.
Source: Wikispecies, Wikipedia: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License