Blister warning for golden flower of summer meadows

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The humble Meadow Buttercup or Ranunculus acris is one of our most resilient wildflowers of grasslands.

It survives when others are squeezed out by modern farming methods and quickly recovers to abundance if fertiliser levels drop and management is less intensive.

So in recent years, thanks in part to more conservation-sensitive farmers and also to Environmental Stewardship grants, our buttercups are on the rise.

Not to be confused with the Creeping Buttercup, an aggressive weed of wet sites and especially of your garden or lawn, the Meadow Buttercup is an altogether more pretty and discerning plant.

The former has distinctively triangular lobed leaves, the latter delicately fingered palmate ones.

Quite tall, upright and elegant, it is a dominant species in old meadows and less-intensive pastures, and also along flower-rich roadside verges and even in urban green-spaces.

Now as we move into summer proper, the buttercup is at its peak and lights up fields and other open spaces.

Not for the Meadow Buttercup the shady lane, wood or riverbank; this is a flower of open sunlight and bigger horizons and it is delightful.

The name “buttercup” while making eminent sense with the colour of butter and the shape of the flower is relatively new, maybe commonly used since the eighteenth century.

Before that the flower was known as Upright Crowfoot, Meadow Crowfoot, Goldweed, Kingcup, Crowpeckle, and Soldier Buttons.

I wonder if any local or regional names survive in Yorkshire – we must have had them in the past? Please us know if you are familiar with any of them.

The buttercup family includes a number of other familiar species such as the splendid Marsh Marigold of wet woods and marshes, and the Lesser Spearwort, a diminutive flower of ponds and moorland flushes.

Another cousin is Lesser Celandine, one of our earliest flowers of the year and formerly called “Pilewort” as it was prescribed for haemorrhoids by herbalist practitioners.

The scientific name “acris” is from the particularly intense acridity of all parts of the plant.

Livestock avoid eating the green plant and it will cause blisters if they do – and this avoidance in part explains the buttercups’ success.

Indeed carrying it a distance in the palm of the hand can supposedly cause inflammation.

It is described as “… a fiery and hot-spirited herb… not fit to be given inwardly… an ointment of the leaves and flowers will raise a blister and may be applied to the nape of the neck to draw rheum from the eyes.”

Please don’t do this at home!

Ian Rotherham is a writer, broadcaster and Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change.