Build me up buttercup*

To celebrate Mount Annan Botanic Garden’s 21st birthday last year (2009), we installed a giant sculpture of a buttercup beside the lake.

This may have seemed odd for a botanic garden that grows only Australian plants but that’s because many people associate buttercups with the northern hemisphere – perhaps popping out of the grasslands of Europe?

The best known of the buttercups is indeed the Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) which grows naturally in Europe, northern Africa and some parts of Asia. We know this one well in Australia because it’s become a nasty weed. There is also a lovely flowering display of Persian Buttercups (Ranunculus asiaticus) in the Spring Walk at Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens.

But Creeping Buttercup is just one of the more than 500 species of Ranunculus. About 40 of the species are native to Australia. They grow all over the place but mostly in the east and south-east of the country, and particularly where soils are flooded regularly. That said, they are found from the coast to the ranges, and a couple even occur in semi-arid regions.

Today I want to mention a native and nice species, Ranunculus lappaceus (‘lappa’ is Latin for bur, presumably a nod to the hooked seed). We call this the Common Buttercup. It occurs naturally at Mount Annan in our remnant patches of the threatened plant community, Cumberland Plain Woodland. Throughout its range in eastern Australia it favours heavy soils, and likes a slightly shaded position with a bit of moisture in the soil.

The (Australian) Common Buttercup will grow well in cultivation. It’s good for a sunny or semi-shaded position and can be grown as a bedding plant in formal or informal drifts as well as in rockeries or containers.

I should note that many buttercups are reputedly poisonous to animals – although if dried in hay, for example, they apparently lose their potency to cattle. Ranunculus lappaceus can cause blindness in horses, but generally animals will avoid eating them because they taste yucky.

So a Giant Common Buttercup is a good emblem for Mount Annan’s 21st party – an Australian plant, local to the area and pretty to boot.

Images: The Giant Common Buttercup, followed by a more normally sized Common Buttercup, both from Mount Annan Botanic Garden. These images were extracted from a 'Plant of the Week' fact sheet prepared by Tracey Armstrong.

*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (under 'Weekends' or search 'gardening'), and is the gist of my 702AM radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday morning, between 9-10 am.