early buttercup

(Ranunculus fascicularis)

Conservation Status
early buttercup
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FAC - Facultative


FACU - Facultative upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

FACU - Facultative upland


Early buttercup is an early spring wildflower. It occurs in the United States and southern Canada east of the Great Plains. In Minnesota it is scattered to common in the lower third of the state, local and uncommon to absent in the middle third, and absent in the northern third. It is found in open upland woodlands, woodland openings, savannas, prairies, pastures, farmyards, lawns, railroads, and roadsides. It grows under full sun to partial shade, on rocky or sandy soil that is poor in nutrients and where there is little competing vegetation. It is the earliest buttercup to bloom, and one of the first of all wildflowers to bloom in the spring. This is the feature that gives the plant its common name.

Early buttercup is a 4 to 12 (10 to 30 cm) tall, erect, perennial forb that rises on basal leaves and one or more leafy flowering stems from thickened (tuberous) roots and thin fibrous roots. In late season the tubers can be up to 2 (5 cm) long. The plant sometimes appears alone but often grows in tufts.

Basal leaves are on slender, up to 4 (10 cm) long leaf stalks (petioles). The petioles are moderately to densely covered with silky, spreading and/or appressed hairs. Leaves are 1316 to 1 (21 to 47 mm) long, ¾ to 1¾ (19 to 45 mm) wide, broadly egg-shaped in outline, and pinnately divided into 3 or 5 primary leaflets. The leaflets may be undivided, have 2 to 5 lobes, or sometimes be cut into 2 to 5 secondary leaflets. The ultimate segments are inversely lance-shaped or inversely egg-shaped. They are usually angled or tapered, sometimes rounded at the base, and usually have a rounded, acute or obtuse point at the tip. The margins are usually toothless but occasionally have a few teeth near the tip. The upper and lower surfaces may be hairless or covered with silky hairs. Basal leaves are present at flowering time.

Stem leaves are smaller, alternate, and stalkless or on short petioles. They may be undivided or cut into 3 lobes or leaflets. The upper and lower surfaces are hairy. The ultimate segments are narrowly oblong or narrowly inversely lance-shaped. The margins are usually untoothed.

The stems are erect or ascending and moderately to densely covered with silky, spreading and/or appressed hairs, especially toward the base. They do not root at the nodes, are not thickened at the base, and do not have bulbils.

The inflorescence is usually a single flower, sometimes 2 to 4 flowers, each one at the end of a long stalk (peduncle) at the top of the stem. The peduncle is hairy and up to ¾ (20 mm) long.

Each flower is ½ to 1 (12 to 25 mm) wide. There are 5 outer floral leaves (sepals), usually 5 petals, rarely up to 8 petals, and numerous stamens. At the center of the flower there is a dense cluster of greenish pistils (carpels). The sepals are green or yellowish-green, 316 to ¼ (5 to 7 mm) long, and 116 to (2 to 3 mm) wide. They are widely spreading at first, becoming strongly bent backward near the base and hanging downward with age. They are more or less flat, with no transverse fold, and are usually hairy, sometimes hairless. They drop off soon after the flower is fully expanded (anthesis). The petals are yellow, glossy, widely spreading, and much longer than the sepals. They are oblong to oblong-elliptic, 516 to 916 (8 to 14 mm) long, and to ¼ (3 to 6 mm) wide. The stamens form a ring around the base of the cluster of pistils. The stamen stalks (filaments) are yellowish and hairless. The anthers are yellow. Each pistil has a single tiny style. Each carpel has an up to (4 mm) long beak.

The fruit is a dry seed capsule (achene) replacing each pistil. As the achenes begin to develop, the petals and sepals fall to the ground, leaving an egg-shaped to more or less globe-shaped, 316 to (5 to 9 mm) long, 316 to 516 (5 to 8 mm) wide seed head. Each achene is shaped like a swollen or inflated lentil, 116 to (2.0 to 2.8 mm) long and 116 (1.8 to 2.2 mm) wide. The upper margin is sharply angled, forming a narrow rib. The faces are smooth and hairless. There is a 116 to (2.0 to 2.8 mm) long extension (beak) at the end of the achene. The beak is slender and straight.




4 to 12 (10 to 30 cm)


Flower Color




Similar Species


Moderately moist to dry. Open upland woodlands, woodland openings, savannas, prairies, pastures, farmyards, lawns, railroads, and roadsides. Full sun to light shade. Poor, rocky or sandy soil,




April and May


Pests and Diseases






Most members of the genus Ranunculus, including early buttercup, are poisonous. They contain ranunculin, which causes blistering in the mouth and in the gastrointestinal tract when eaten. Handling the plants causes ranunculin to be broken down into protoanemonin, which causes contact dermatitis.


Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 24, 28, 29, 30.








Scattered to common in the lower third of the state, local and uncommon to absent in the middle third, and absent in the northern third.

  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Ranunculanae  


Ranunculales (buttercups, poppies, and allies)  


Ranunculaceae (buttercup)  
  Subfamily Ranunculoideae (anemones, buttercups, larkspurs and allies)  
  Tribe Ranunculeae  


Ranunculus (buttercup)  

Subordinate Taxa


Some authors recognize two varieties, var. apricus, with basal leaves divided into wide shallow lobes or teeth, and var. typicus, with basal leaves divided into 3 to 5 leaflets. Of these, only var. typicus occurs in the northern half of the United States. Most authors reject the separation and treat the varieties as synonyms.




early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis var. apricus)

early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis var. typicus)


Common Names


early buttercup

prairie buttercup

prairie tufted buttercup

thick-root buttercup

tufted buttercup












A dry, one-chambered, single-seeded seed capsule, formed from a single carpel, with the seed attached to the membranous outer layer (wall) only by the seed stalk; the wall, formed entirely from the wall of the superior ovary, does not split open at maturity, but relies on decay or predation to release the contents.



Growing upward at an angle or curving upward from the base.



On plants: A comparatively short and stout, narrow or prolonged tip on a thickened organ, as on some fruits and seeds. On insects: The protruding, tubular mouthpart of a sucking insect.



A small bulb, formed in a leaf axil or at the base of a stem, that can produce a new plant.



The female reproductive organ of a flower, consisting of an ovary, styles, and stigmas.



Narrowly oval, broadest at the middle, narrower at both ends, with the ends being equal.



On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.



Two to four times longer than wide with nearly parallel sides.



In angiosperms, the stalk of a single flower or a flower cluster; in club mosses, the stalk of a strobilus or a group of strobili.



On plants: The stalk of a leaf blade or a compound leaf that attaches it to the stem. On ants and wasps: The constricted first one or two segments of the rear part of the body.



On a compound leaf, having the leaflets arranged on opposite sides of a common stalk. On a bryophyte, having branches evenly arranged on opposite sides of a stem.



An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.



An underground root (as with dahlias) or stem (as with potatoes), thickened by the accumulation of reserved food (usually starch), which serves for food storage and vegetative propagation.






Do Not Disturb

Another common name for early buttercup is thick-root buttercup. The thickened, tuberous roots are a strong identifying feature. However, uprooting it to observe this feature will kill this perennial plant. Identify early buttercup by its small size; relatively large flowers; pinnate, deeply lobed leaves; flat sepals; straight beak on the achenes; and early blooming period.








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Ranunculus fascicularis
Corey Raimond
  Ranunculus fascicularis  



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Other Videos
  Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis)

Jun 4, 2010

http://www.prairiemoon.com - The earliest Buttercup to bloom at Prairie Moon Nursery is the Early Buttercup with its yellow flowers.

  Woodland Edge: Early Buttercup
Sanders' Wildflowers

Mar 3, 2020

Enjoy a collection of educational videos by Dr. Roger Sanders about the spring wildflowers found throughout the southern Appalachians. These videos are a production of Core Academy of Science, a christian nonprofit based out of Dayton, TN.




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  Nancy Falkum

Location: Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA, Weaver Dunes Unit

first Early Buttercup


early buttercup

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Created: 4/14/2022

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