“The Small Celandine”

Ranunculus Ficaria Grandiflorus. Hand-coloured lithograph by L. Snelling. The Royal Horticultural Society. 1930.

“The Small Celandine”

Pansies, lilies, kingcups, daisies,

Let them live upon their praises;

Long as there are violets,

They will have a place in story;

There’s a flower that shall be mine,

‘Tis the little celandine.

~ William Wordsworth

This lesser known harbinger of Spring was the famed poet Wordsworth’s favorite flower. And truly, what’s not to love about this brave pioneer? Lesser Celandine (not to be confused with Greater Celandine, which is a summertime flower) first shows its face in the final throes of winter, furnishing the pale, bleak late winter with a cheery palette of yellow. It is a creature of habit, opening with the sun’s rise and closing with its setting and closing too  before a rain. Also known as “Fig Buttercup,” this relative of the buttercup thrives in the English countryside, especially along waterways and the corners of shady, sodden meadows. Here it covers the hillsides with a thick, glossy carpet of foliage. As the bold blooms of early Summer burst onto the scene, the small Celandine fades away and retreats into its underground tubers.

According to the Victorian “Language of Flowers”—by which every flower possesses a particular significance—Lesser Celandine embodies “joys to come.” Mention of Lesser Celandine and documentation of its use as an herbal remedy date back to the Middle Ages. According to the ages-old “doctrine of signatures,” the medicinal use of a particular  plant or herb corresponds to its form.  The tubers of Lesser Celandine were thought to resemble hemmorhoids or “piles” as they were called in those days, and so Lesser Celandine (or “Pilewort, as it was termed in Old English) was often extolled as a remedy for this affliction.

In all fairness, while its attributes are manifold, Lesser Celandine has its vices too…this tenacious plant is considered an invasive species in at least seventeen states! Due to its unusual growth cycle and hardy constitution, it spreads quickly and can easily overtake native species. It may be called “small” Celandine, but this little scrapper is a force to be reckoned with!


Image: Ranunculus Ficaria Grandiflorus. Hand-coloured lithograph by L. Snelling. The Royal Horticultural Society. 1930.Oldimprints.com <http://bit.ly/21GPKz8&gt;.

“Celandine, Lesser.” A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve. Botanical.com  <http://bit.ly/1QVJXR2&gt;.

“Fig Buttercup.” Plant Conservation Alliance. <http://1.usa.gov/1p1SJRu&gt;


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