ANNAPOLIS, MD (February 8, 2005)
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"
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:
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.