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buttercup or crowfoot, common name for the Ranunculaceae, a family of chiefly annual or perennial herbs of cool regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Thought to be one of the most primitive families of dicotyledenous plants, the Ranunculaceae typically have a simple flower structure in which each flower part may be separate rather than fused into a single organ (see flower). Many buttercups are aquatic plants, hence the Latin name for the genus Ranunculus [little frog]. The family includes numerous familiar wildflowers and many cultivated ornamentals. Well-known representatives are the aconite, anemone, baneberry, bugbane, clematis (one of the few vine genera), columbine, globeflower, hellebore, hepatica, larkspur, love-in-a-mist, marsh marigold (the American cowslip), meadow rue, and peony.

The largest genus, Ranunculus, comprises the buttercups and crowfoots, names often used interchangeably. Found throughout arctic, north temperate, and alpine regions, with species in the Andes and in subantarctic areas, this genus is characterized by glossy yellow flowers (hence the name buttercup) and deeply cut leaves (supposedly resembling crows' feet). Like some other members of the family, species of this genus contain an acrid juice that makes them unpalatable for livestock and in some species poisonous. A dozen or more species are common in every part of the United States. Among those cultivated for garden and cut flowers are some double-blossomed Old World species, e.g., the turban, or Persian, buttercup (R. asiaticus), valued for the variety of its colors (all but blue), and the creeping buttercup (R. repens), native to both North America and Europe. The fig buttercup (R. ficaria), or lesser celandine—a name more commonly applied to some plants of the poppy family—is native to W Eurasia. It is considered an invasive plant in North America.

The buttercup family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Ranunculales.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the popular name for certain herbaceous plants, predominantly with yellow flowers. Plants of the genus Ranunculus, primarily the species Ranunculus acris, are most often called buttercups. R. acris is a perennial, measuring 20–80 cm. tall, with a hairy stem and generally digitipartite leaves. The flowers are golden-yellow, on long peduncles; they bloom at the beginning of the summer. R. acris grows in the temperate zone of Eurasia; in the USSR it is found in meadows, forest glades, brushwood, and forests in the European USSR, Western Siberia, and Middle Asia. It is poisonous: the juice produces severe burns on the skin and causes tearing and sharp pain in the eyes. The buttercup is a meadow weed, rarely eaten by cattle.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


traditional symbol of wealth. [Plant Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 167]
See: Wealth
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


any of various yellow-flowered ranunculaceous plants of the genus Ranunculus, such as R. acris (meadow buttercup), which is native to Europe but common throughout North America
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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