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Ficaria verna

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Ficaria verna, (formerly Ranunculus ficaria L.) commonly known as lesser celandine or pilewort,<ref name=BSBI07>Template:Cite web</ref> is a low-growing, hairless perennial flowering plant in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae native to Europe and west Asia. It has fleshy dark green, heart-shaped leaves and distinctive flowers with bright yellow, glossy petals.<ref name = kooi>Functional optics of glossy buttercup flowers Journal of the Royal Society Interface 14:20160933</ref><ref name = newscientist>Buttercups focus light to heat their flowers and attract insects New Scientist 25 February 2017</ref> It is now introduced in North America, where it is known by the common name fig buttercup and considered an invasive species.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref name=":0">Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:PLANTS</ref><ref name=":5">Template:Cite web</ref> The plant is poisonous if ingested raw and potentially fatal to grazing animals and livestock such as horses, cattle, and sheep.<ref name=":1">Template:Cite journal</ref> For these reasons, several US states have banned the plant or listed it as a noxious weed.<ref name=":0" /><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> It prefers bare, damp ground and is considered by horticulturalists in the United Kingdom as a persistent garden weed.<ref name=":2">Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref> Emerging in late winter with flowers appearing March through May in the UK, its appearance across the landscape is regarded by many as a harbinger of spring.<ref name=":2" />


Lesser celandine is a hairless perennial, with spirally-arranged cordate dark-green leaves without stipules. It produces actinomorphic (radially symmetrical) flowers with 3 sepaloid tepals and 7-12 glossy<ref name = kooi /> yellow petaloid tepals. Double flowered varieties also occur. The stamens and carpels are numerous, and the fruit is a single-seeded achene with a very short style. In several sub-species, tubers are formed in the leaf axils after flowering.<ref name=Stace>Template:Cite book</ref>Template:Rp It blooms between March and May in the UK.<ref name=Readers>Template:Cite book</ref>
Close-up of Ficaria verna flower.


Ficaria verna sensu lato is native to central Europe, north Africa and the Caucasus. It is not native in North America.<ref name=DVF>Template:Cite web</ref>

Life cycle

Ficaria verna flowers appear in early spring.

Lesser celandine grows on land that is seasonally wet or flooded, especially in sandy soils, but is not found in permanently waterlogged sites.<ref name=":3">Template:Cite journal</ref> In both shaded woodlands and open areas, Ficaria verna begins growth in the winter when temperatures are low and days are short.<ref name="GISD" /> The plants mostly propagate and spread vegetatively,<ref name=":4">Template:Cite journal</ref> although some subspecies are capable of producing up to 73 seeds per flower.<ref name=":2" /> Germination of seeds begins in the spring, and continues into summer.<ref name=":2" /> Seedlings remain small for their first year, producing only one or two leaves until the second year.<ref name=":2" />

Growth and reproduction is poor in dry or acidic conditions, though the plants can handle drought well once dormant.<ref name=":2" /> By emerging before the forest canopy leafs out, Ficaria verna is able to take advantage of the higher levels of sunlight reaching the forest floor during late winter and early spring.<ref name="pca" /> By late spring, second year plants quickly age as daylight hours lengthen and temperatures rise.<ref name=":2" /> By the end of May, foliage has died back and plants enter a six month dormancy phase.<ref name=":4" />

If disturbed, separation of the plant's numerous basal tubers is an efficient means of vegetative propagation.<ref name="GISD" /> The plants are easily spread if the prolific tubers are unearthed and scattered by digging activities of some animals and humans.<ref name="pca" /><ref name=":2" /> Erosion and flood events are particularly effective means of spread, as the plants are very successful at colonizing low-lying floodplains once deposited.<ref name="GISD">Template:GISD</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Typical root tubers of Ficaria verna. These structures separate easily and can become new plants, allowing the plant to colonize new areas rapidly.

Ficaria verna exists in both diploid (2n=16) and tetraploid (2n=32) forms which are very similar in appearance.<ref name=":2" /> However, the tetraploid types prefer more shady locations and can develop up to 24 bulbils at the base of the stalk.<ref name=":2" /><ref name=":4" /> Subspecies F. verna bulbilifera, F. verna chrysocephalus, and F. verna ficariiformis are tetraploid and capable of colonizing new areas much faster because of bulbil production.<ref name=":4" /> Subspecies F. verna calthifolia and F. verna verna are diploid<ref name=":1" /><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and hybrids between subspecies often create sterile triploid forms.<ref name=":1" />

Ecology as an invasive species

In many parts of the Eastern and Northwestern United States and Canada, lesser celandine is cited as an invasive species.<ref name=":3" /> It poses a threat to native wildflowers, especially those ephemeral flowers with a spring-flowering lifecycle.<ref name="GISD" /> Since Ficaria verna emerges well before most native species, it has a developmental advantage which allows it to establish and dominate natural areas rapidly.<ref name="pca" /> It is mainly a problem in forested floodplains, where it forms extensive mats, but can occur on upland sites as well.<ref name="pca">Template:Cite web</ref> Once established, native plants are displaced and ground is left barren and susceptible to erosion, from June to February, during the plant's six-month dormancy phase.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

In the United States, where lesser celandine is considered a plant pest to gardens, lawns, and natural areas, many governmental agencies have made great effort attempting to slow the spread of this species with limited success.<ref name=":5" /> As of 2014, the species was reported to be invasive and established in 25 states.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> USDA APHIS considers Ficaria verna to be a high risk weed which could spread across 79 percent of the United States, anticipating possible impacts to threatened and endangered riparian species.<ref name=":5" /> The U.S. National Park Service's Plant Conservation Alliance recommends avoiding planting lesser celandine, and instead planting native ephemeral wildflowers such as Asarum canadense, bloodroot, the native twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla), and various species of Trillium as alternatives.<ref name="pca" />
As an invasive species: Ficaria verna forms a dense carpet in a floodplain forest in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania


All plants of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) contain a compound known as protoanemonin<ref name="Hager">Template:Cite book</ref> When the plant is wounded, the unstable glucoside ranunculin turns into the toxin protoanemonin.<ref name=":10" /> Contact with damaged or crushed Ficaria leaves can cause itching, rashes or blistering on the skin or mucosa.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> Ingesting the toxin can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, spasms, or paralysis.<ref name=":10">Template:Cite book</ref> In one case, a patient experienced acute hepatitis and jaundice when taking untreated lesser celandine extracts internally as an herbal remedy for hemorrhoids.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>


On drying of these plants, the protoanemonin toxin dimerizes to non-toxic anemonin, which is further hydrolyzed to non-toxic dicarboxylic acids.<ref name="Hunnius">Template:Cite book</ref><ref name=":8">Mithen, S. , N. Finlay , W. Carruthers , S. Carter , and P. Ashmore. 2001. Plant use in the Mesolithic: Staosnaig, Isle of Colonsay, Scotland. J. Archaeol. Sci 28:223–234.</ref> Cooking of the plants also eliminates the toxicity of the plants and the plant has been incorporated in diets or herbal medicine after being dried, and ground for flour, or boiled and consumed as a vegetable.<ref name=":3" /><ref name=":8" /><ref>North, P. 1967. Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Colour. London Blandford. 121.</ref>
The striking yellow flowers of lesser celandine, Ficaria verna

Historical herbal use

Ficaria verna

The plant is known as pilewort by some herbalists because it has historically been used to treat piles (hemorrhoids).<ref name=":6">Chevallier, A. 1996. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York DK. 258.</ref><ref name=":7">Chillemi, S. and M. Chillemi . 2007. The Complete Herbal Guide: A Natural Approach to Healing the Body. Morrisville, NC Lulu. 231.</ref> Lesser celandine is still recommended in several "current" herbal guides for treatment of hemorrhoids by applying an ointment of raw leaves as a cream or lanolin to the affected area.<ref name=":3" /><ref name=":7" /><ref>De BaÏracli Levy, J. 1991. The Illustrated Herbal Handbook for Everyone. London Faber and Faber. 51.</ref> Supposedly, the knobby tubers of the plant resemble piles, and according to the doctrine of signatures this resemblance suggests that pilewort could be used to cure piles.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Nicholas Culpepper (1616 – 1654), is claimed to have treated his daughter for 'scrofula' (or Kings evil) with the plant.<ref name=Readers/>

The German vernacular skorbutkraut ("scurvy herb") derives from the use of young leaves, which are high in vitamin C, to prevent scurvy.<ref name=":3" /><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> However, use of lesser celandine to prevent scurvy could be considered a misnomer, tied to its similar appearance to common scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis), which shares similarly shaped leaves as well as sharing the german name skorbutkraut.<ref name=":9">Template:Cite book</ref> The German Hager's Manual of pharmacy practice of 1900 states Ranunculus ficaria [sic] and C. officinalis both share this name and use,<ref name=":9" /> though there was little documentation of the toxicity of untreated Ficaria species at the time.

Most guides today point out that medicines should be made from the dried herb or by heat extraction as the untreated plants and extracts will contain protoanemonin, a mild toxin.<ref name=":6" /><ref name=":7" /> The plant has been widely used in Russia and is sold in most pharmacies as a dried herb.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> The protoanemonin found in fresh leaves is an irritant and mildly toxic but is suggested to have antibacterial properties if used externally.<ref name=":6" /> The process of heating or drying turns the Ranunculaceae toxin to anemonin which is non-toxic and may have antispasmodic and analgesic properties.<ref name=":6" />

Ficaria verna, lesser celandine, at Killynether wood, Northern Ireland

References in literature

The poet William Wordsworth was very fond of the flower and it inspired him to write three poems including the following from his ode to the celandine:

I have seen thee, high and low,
Thirty years or more, and yet
'T was a face I did not know;
Ficaria verna, near České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Upon Wordsworth's death it was proposed that a celandine be carved on his memorial plaque inside St Oswald's Church, Grasmere, but unfortunately the greater celandine Chelidonium majus was mistakenly used.<ref>Template:Cite book page 18</ref>

Edward Thomas wrote a poem entitled "Celadine".<ref>Ed. Mohit K. Ray (Editor) Template:Google books</ref> Encountering the flower in a field, the narrator is reminded of a past love, now dead.<ref>Template:Cite news</ref>

C. S. Lewis mentions celandines in a key passage of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Aslan comes to Narnia and the whole wood passes "in a few hours or so from January to May". The children notice "wonderful things happening. Coming suddenly round a corner into a glade of silver birch trees Edmund saw the ground covered in all directions with little yellow flowers - celandines".<ref>Template:Cite book End of chapter 11, beginning of chapter 12</ref>

D. H. Lawrence mentions celandines frequently in Sons and Lovers. They appear to be a favorite of the protagonist, Paul Morrel;

"...going down the hedgeside with the girl, he noticed the celandines, scalloped splashes of gold, on the side of the ditch. 'I like them' he said 'when their petals go flat back with the sunshine. They seem to be pressing themselves at the sun.'

And then the celandines ever after drew her with a little spell."<ref>Template:Cite book Chapter 6: Death in the family</ref>

See also




External links

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