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February 8, 2005

Contact: Robert Trumbule, MDA
301-982-3224 or rtrumbule@erols.com

A "Lesser" Spring Flower Becoming a Greater Problem
The Lesser Celandine is February Invader of the Month

ANNAPOLIS, MD (February 8, 2005)fig buttercup

photo: Jil M. Swearingen, USDI National Park Service, www.forestryimages.org

Later this month, Lesser Celandine, an early Spring blooming member of the buttercup family, will emerge in gardens and woodlands in Maryland. Although it may be a welcome site for winter weary hikers and gardeners, many of Maryland's native woodland Spring flowers feel a big impact from this "lesser" companion.

Lesser Celandine grows and reproduces especially well in moist or wet woodland soils, and can be found carpeting large expanses of the forest floor in lowland forests and stream valley flood plains where it has become established. Unfortunately, these large colonies of Lesser Celandine are found in the same habitat and at the same time of year as many of our native wild flowers, especially a group called spring ephemerals. Native spring ephemerals include Trout Lily, Spring Beauty, Dutchman's Breeches, Bloodroot, Toothworts, Rue Anemone, Twinleaf, and Virginia Bluebells. Lesser Celandine can effectively out-compete and displace these native plants due to its more aggressive, vigorous growth, and rapid spread.

This invader's aggressive ability to colonize and out-compete our native woodland spring wildflowers has earned Lesser Celandine the title of Invader of the Month for February from the Maryland Invasive Species Council.

Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, also known as Pilewort, Figwort, Smallwort, Fig Buttercup, and Small Celandine, is an early spring blooming, herbaceous member of the Buttercup Family, Ranunculaceae. Its leaves emerge in late winter (February) in Maryland. The bright yellow buttercup-like flowers contrast sharply with the glossy green heart-shaped leaves through March into April, whereupon the entire plant dies back and survives as underground tubers until the following year. Native to Europe, it is said to have been William Wordsworth's "favourite flower," and indeed, he wrote three poems extolling the virtues of this tough little harbinger of spring. Historically, the plant was valued for its medicinal properties. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) wrote of the curative powers of this plant in treating piles, hemorrhoids, boils, warts, and tumors. Young leaves are reported to have been used in treatment of scurvy, as they are relatively high in vitamin C, and were even often used in salads. Older leaves were not used for this purpose, as they contain the toxin protoanemonine. When boiled with white wine, sweetened with honey, and taken before bed, the Lesser Celandine was believed to induce pleasant dreams, and was used as a "visionary herb" to increase psychic abilities. It is likely that for some of these same qualities this plant was cherished as a garden plant and found its way to North America.

Control is difficult because of the short-lived nature of the above ground portions of this plant, and the need to avoid harming the other native plants often still present in the same habitat. Therefore, management efforts must be both careful and persistent, and it may take several years to eradicate it from a site. Manual methods of control (i.e. hand digging) may be possible for small areas; however the use of systemic herbicides has proven to be more effective for larger infestations. Timing of application is extremely important, as the portion of the life cycle of this plant that is vulnerable to foliar herbicides is very short (less than two months). The window of opportunity for treatment opens after the foliage of the Lesser Celandine appears and becomes fully expanded, and is effectively closed (primarily due to the emergence of the slightly later spring ephemerals) before the first flower buds of the Lesser Celandine open. Herbicide selection appropriate to the site is also extremely important especially if any wetlands, vernal pools, ponds or streams are nearby. More information about Lesser Celandine and specific herbicide recommendations can be found at: http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/rafi1.htm.

Note: It is very important to properly identify suspect plants as Lesser Celandine. There is a closely related, although much more rarely encountered, native wildflower, Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris, that may be easily misidentified as Lesser Celandine by the inexperienced naturalist. For more information about other Invasive Species of Concern, visit www.mdinvasivesp.org or call MDA at 410.841.5920.

photos available electronically on request.

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