Thursday, March 11, 2021

Be On Guard for Lesser Celandine

From backyards to front yards to curbsides to parks and nature preserves, a small invasive flower is on the march. Dominating the landscape in early spring with its yellow blooms, it turns March into LOOK AT ME, ME, ME!, because that's all you will see when lesser celandine coats the ground. Just to hoodwink homeowners, the name "lesser celandine" has sometimes been supplanted by the name "fig buttercup," but it's all the same plant, whose latin name is Ficaria verna

My posts about the plant date back to 2007, when I heard people mistakenly calling it "marsh marigold," which it most emphatically is not. Back then, lesser celandine was most entrenched at Pettoranello Gardens and rapidly spreading downstream into Mountain Lakes. Hopefully, when Princeton hires an open space manager, a more coordinated effort can be launched to reduce the plant's spread and protect areas not yet infested. Homeowners tend to like the plant at first, then become appalled as it begins taking over the yard and spreading to the neighbors'. 

Use herbicides on lesser celandine? The nature of good and evil.

Those who care enough about their yards and the local ecology to want to stop the plant's spread may also feel qualms about using herbicides, which are the only practical means of control. Removal by digging is cumbersome, time-consuming, and adds unnecessary weight and bulk to your trash can. I encourage people to think of herbicides for nature the same way we think of medicines for people. We know all medicines have some level of toxicity, but we use them in a minimal and targeted way to protect our health. Doesn't nature deserve the same sort of intelligent intervention? It's important to make a distinction between spot spraying for lesser celandine and the blanket application of pesticides and chemical fertilizers on lawns. Glyphosate and Roundup are not synonymous. There are wetland-safe forms of glyphosate available online, not made by Monsanto. If treating lesser celandine that has invaded lawns, use an herbicide that is selective for broadleaf plants so that the grass survives.

While avoiding blanket condemnations of herbicides, I also like to avoid thinking of invasive species as "bad plants." Like so many of the problems that plague us, they are "too much of a good thing." Unfortunately, though it might be tempting to keep a few lesser celandines in the yard, its super aggressive behavior makes that very risky. Best to eliminate it altogether. Winter aconite, on the other hand, is a nonnative that looks a lot like lesser celandine but has not to my knowledge spread into natural areas.

Selected past posts:

2019: Fig Buttercup--Little Flower, Big Problem - Photos of fig buttercup's (lesser celandine's) spread, along with a discussion of why this invasive species creates more problems than other common invasives.

2018: A World Paved With Fig Buttercup? - Lesser celandine's other common name is fig buttercup. This post documents in photos and text the astonishing spread of this plant in the Mountain Avenue neighborhood.

2017: Winter Aconite and Fig Buttercup--Related Flowers, Contrasting Behaviors - These two early blooming yellow flowers look very similar, but behave very differently.

2016: Letter On Lesser Celandine Strikes a Nerve - a letter in the Town Topics that got quite a response

2016: Alert, Monitoring for Lesser Celandine - This post includes links to treatment options.

2015: Marsh Marigold vs. Lesser Celandine - Lesser celandine is frequently mistaken for the native marsh marigold, which is a larger plant and very, very rarely seen.

2013: Will the Real Marsh Marigold Please Stand Up--a Confusion of Yellows - Some photos help distinguish lesser celandine from marsh marigold, dandelion, and celandine poppy.

2007: Pretty, but... - My earliest post on lesser celandine.


  1. Winter aconite has modest potential for local spread. The flowering season is over for it, but it is ubiquitous around the nature center building at Graeber Woods, adjacent to Griggstown Grassland (John Clyde Memorial Native Grassland) Preserve in Franklin Park, NJ, where it has established clumps into surrounding forest. Tough to find it though, both the blooms and the subsequent leaves are spring-ephemeral.

  2. Stan, your right. Winter aconite seems to be one of those highly localized spreaders that can spread in a garden but hasn't (yet) become invasive in the wild. Other plants I put in that category are Siberian bugloss, rose of sharon, and japanese maple, though the Japanese maples that used to be next to the Veblen Cottage did start spreading into the woods over some 70 years.