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Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
Photo credit: © Monika Heinrichs/Flickr

Lesser Celandine

(Ranunculus ficaria)

Report this Species!

If you believe you have found this species anywhere in Pennsylvania, please report your findings to iMapInvasives by submitting an observation record.

Species at a Glance

Lesser celandine, also known as fig buttercup and pilewart, is a low-growing, perennial, flowering herb that completes its life cycle during the winter and spring. When in bloom, large infestations appear as a thick green carpet with yellow dots spread across the forest floor.


Leaves: Kidney to heart-shaped leaves have both smooth and coarse toothed edges and come together to form a rosette. Leaves are tender, stalked, and coloration is a shiny, almost lustrous, dark green.


Flowers: A single flower with 8-12 symmetrical petals blooms in the center of each rosette in March and April. They are a buttery yellow color with slightly darker centers and grow to be about 2.5 cm (1 in) wide.


Stems/Roots: Tiny cream-colored bulblets are produced in the stem axils and become apparent later in the flowering period. Roots produce numerous finger-like tubers that are easily visible when the plant is pulled up and are used to store energy for early growth in the spring.

Similar Species

Native marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) also has kidney-shaped leaves and yellow flowers but does not produce tubers or form a continuous carpet of growth. Other look-a-likes include celandine (Chelidonium majus) and celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), both of which belong to the poppy family and have flowers with only four petals.


While lesser celandine is mostly found in moist forested floodplains with sandy soils, it can also occur in drier upland areas.


Lesser celandine spreads using an abundant network of tubers and bulblets, which easily separate from the parent plant to form a new independent plant. Tubers can be unearthed and scattered around to new locations by animal and human activity, hitchhiking on equipment, or by flooding events.


Native to Eurasia, including Europe, northern Africa, western Asia, Caucasus, and Siberia, lesser celandine was introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant and many colorful varieties are still available commercially. It is reported as an invasive in at least twenty states in the United States, including all Mid-Atlantic states except North Carolina and South Carolina.


Note: Distribution data for this species may have changed since the publication of the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016), the source of information for this description.

Environmental Impacts

Lesser celandine emerges before most native species in the spring, giving it a competitive advantage and allowing it to form a thick blanket of leaves across the forest floor, preventing native species from penetrating.


Information for this species profile comes from the Mid-Atlantic Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species (2016).

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