We have all been very familiar with buttercup flowers since childhood. However, the buttercups that grow so well in your garden are a different type from the ones which are common in our woodland. Our meadow buttercups (also known as "Tall buttercups") can grow anywhere between 20-90 cm tall, as they stand erect with their glossy yellow flowers held at the tips of the tall stems. They are happiest amongst long grass in slightly damp, chalky soils, where they can grow so dense that they forms yellow meadows that dazzle in the sunshine throughout their flowering period, between April and October.
On the other hand, the Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) is the species we see strewn through the short grass of domestic lawns (at least, our lawns!) and amongst our borders. Its habit of growing close to the ground and spreading by producing long runners enables it to colonise new areas – and also to survive the depredations of the lawn mower! It is much more of a survivor than our Meadow Buttercup, which might not cope nearly as well with the sequence of mowings that would go on in a 'normal' year.
All of the buttercup family (the Ranunculaceae) have flowers with the same basic structure, although not all (by any manner of means) are yellow in colour. However, the differences between the flowers of our two common buttercups are very slight and their flat, open and simple flower structure make them excellent subjects to look at if one wishes to understand the process by which plants are able to use their flowers to make seeds.
That could be the subject of another TarvinOnLine article – perhaps a piece of "Lockdown Science" for anyone who is interested.
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