After a long and dreary winter, we look forward to spring with the snow going, gophers running around, the birds returning and the earliest flowers starting to show up in the few remaining patches of native prairie. The very first are the Prairie Crocuses which I wrote about in a Nature Note of April 3, 2016. Perhaps the next to appear is the Prairie Buttercup, Rananunculus rhomboideus. My records are of them being in flower from late April to early June.
Ranunculus rhomboideus, the Prairie Buttercup
It is characteristic of native short-grass and mixed-grass prairie and is often found on south-facing hillsides. This is perhaps so as much of the level ground has been broken for cultivation and the plants destroyed, whereas a hillside may have been too steep for cultivation.
Like the Prairie Crocus, the Prairie Buttercup is a member of the Ranunculus or Buttercup family. It is a low-growing perennial that bears 3-12 flowers each of which is 1/3 to ½ of an inch across. Each flower usually has five petals and five sepals. The petals are bright yellow and shiny while the sepals are pale yellow and less noticeable. There are numerous yellow stamens. The fruits which develop in a globular head are dry achenes. The stem leaves are dark green, deeply cleft into three lobes and are hairy.
Bumblebees and smaller bees are often seen visiting the flowers.
Also appearing around the same time, and in the same habitat, is the Early Conquifoil (Potentilla concinna). Its larger, wider petals and more noticeable 5-9 foliate leaves that are white tomentose below make it easily separable.
Potentilla concinna, The Early Cinquefoil
You can read more about the Prairie Buttercup in the classic “Flora of Alberta” written by Ezra Moss and revised by John Packer. It is illustrated and described in “Wildflowers Across the Prairies” by F.R. Vance, J.R. Jowsey and J.S. McLean. There is also a nice account at https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/prairie-buttercup.
Two of nature’s treasures. Admire, photograph and protect for future generations.