Looks can be deceiving. Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria L.), or fig buttercup, appears to be a sweet little exotic plant that wouldn’t harm anyone. But ask the native spring-blooming plant community, and they will tell you the truth about lesser celandine. That is, if you can even find a native spring bloomer to ask. Once lesser celandine has been introduced to an area, all you will find is lesser celandine.
Like other invasive plants, lesser celandine is a robust non-native that was introduced to the U.S. sometime during the 1800’s as an ornamental. While it is pretty, it didn’t have the predators or diseases that kept it in check in its native homeland. This gave lesser celandine a huge advantage over the native plants. As it competed with the native vegetation for food and sunlight, it won.
Identifying Lesser Celandine
It has spread like wildfire through woodland areas in the Northeast and in the Pacific Northwest. Today, it is considered an invasive plant in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and in the District of Columbia.
Lesser celandine blooms in March and April with happy yellow blooms. The blooms are nestled into deep green heart shaped leaves. It quickly spreads and covers the ground. The roots are tuberous, and this plant spreads by seed, too. Visit this link for a look at lesser celandine.
Lesser celandine is available for purchase in many varieties. Regardless of color, all cultivars should be considered invasive.
Controlling Lesser Celandine
Lesser celandine is challenging to control and remove. It is possible to manage a smaller growth by pulling or digging up the plant and the tubers entirely. Don’t leave a bit of tuber behind, or it will explode back into action.
Wet the ground first to make the job of weeding a bit less toilsome. And, just know that the process will take persistence and vigilance. Watch the area for new growth.
Digging and pulling may disrupt native plants as you disturb the soil. Believe it or not, chemical treatment is the recommended method for eradication of this plant- especially for larger areas of infestation. Choose a regular glyphosate herbicide, and use several applications during the short window of time during late winter and early spring as new growth begins. Always follow instructions on the label.
Alternative Plants to Lesser Celandine
Lesser celandine looks a lot like the native marsh marigold. It also inhabits marsh marigold territory, so the marsh marigold is an excellent alternative to lesser celandine. Wild ginger is another good option. Wild ginger is a native spring wildflower that boasts deep green foliage and is a successful groundcover in lieu of lesser celandine.
Bloodroot is a perennial spring bloomer that is an endangered species in many states. This dainty ground covering beauty would appreciate a helping hand to get re-established in areas where it has been ousted by the lesser celandine. And twinleaf is another less common wildflower worthy of seeking out and planting as an alternative to lesser celandine.
Celandine poppy is another yellow and happy alternative choice. This early spring bloomer is perfect for a woodland garden. This plant plays well with others, unlike the lesser celandine.
Don’t let invasive plants fool you. Plants like lesser celandine are taxing wildlife habitats to the point of no return. When these seemingly pretty plants overtake the beautiful native ones, it upsets the balance to the wildlife that depend on the vegetation to survive.
Do your part by being aware of the invasive plants in your area. Spread the word, but don’t spread the problem. Simply avoid planting these dangerous species. Be a conscientious gardener!
Want to learn more about getting rid of invasive fig buttercup?
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of joysaphine