Mike Fabrizio, a reader, recently sent along this photo and asked this question:
“Just wondering what this weed is called and how to treat it on my lawn. Thanks!”
This particular plant has special interest for me because it is growing in my neighborhood. When I first noticed it growing on my neighbor’s lawn a few years ago, I thought about digging some up and planting it my garden because the flowers are so pretty. But I hesitated– If that plant just showed up in the lawn, maybe it’s invasive, I thought.
Boy, am I glad I reconsidered and didn’t encourage this plant!
The short answer to Fabrizio’s question is that the plant in the photo is lesser celandine. Dig it up and get rid of it. It’s bad for your lawn and it’s bad for the environment.
Carol Ann Harlos, coordinator of Master Gardeners in Erie County, knows a lot about lesser celandine and shared information with me that she had prepared for Master Gardeners.
Lesser celandine grows close to the ground, she said. It has heart-shaped leaves and shiny yellow flowers that resemble buttercups.
The plant’s Latin name is Ranunculus ficaria. Ranunculus is Latin for “little frog,” and it got that name because it emerges anywhere from March through the month of May, when one can often hears frogs and toads, Harlos said. She added a bit of folklore: Lesser celandine was also called “pilewort” because it was used to treat piles, more properly known as hemorrhoids.
Lesser celandine is an ephemeral ground cover, which means that after the plant blooms, the entire plant seems to disappear, she said. The tubers or underground stems of lesser celandine wait until late in the winter when they gradually wake, send up new leaves and begin the cycle all over again.
This plant also reproduces by achenes, which are tiny, dry, one-seeded fruits that are spread by birds.
If you have lesser celandine now, next year you will see more of these plants, Harlos said. Their rosettes will be everywhere– in your gardens, your neighbors’ gardens, in your perennial gardens, in your grass.
That’s a problem because lesser celandine, which originated in Europe and Asia, competes with native species in North America.
How does it do this? Lesser celandine completes its life cycle early and thus shades out and steals nutrients from native species in the spring. It does this by getting there first, before bloodroot, trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, and other ephemerals emerge.
This is a problem not just for your garden or lawn, but for natural spaces, Harolos pointed out.
Birds spread the seeds into forests and other uncultivated places. Lesser celandine will crowd out the native plants.
“Please dig up lesser celandine and get every last piece,” she said. “I know this plant is attractive, but good gardeners must realize that no garden lives in isolation from the rest of the world.”
See an update posted in 2016 here.
Get your questions answered by Master Gardeners or experts at garden centers
When you have gardening questions, you can call the Master Gardeners with Cornell Cooperative Extension. For Cornell Cooperative Extension Erie County, call (716) 652-5400 from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. For Chautauqua County, email your question to CCEMGCC@gmail.com; call the Helpline at (716) 664-9502, ext 224, or stop in to the Ag Center, 3542 Turner Rd., Jamestown, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays.
There are helpful Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in other counties, too. Find contact information here for your county’s Cooperative Extension office.
You can also stop at a garden center to get great information. Check out our advertisers, click on their ad and you’ll be taken to their website or Facebook page to get their hours, address and other important information.
Sometimes readers contact me with questions, but I’m not a gardening expert. Turning to Cornell Cooperative Extension or your local garden center is probably the most efficient route for getting your questions answered.
Occasionally I post questions from readers in the hopes that another reader will leave a comment with helpful information. This can be helpful if you’re looking for a wide range of opinions and don’t mind waiting until the question is posted and people respond. If you want to try this route, email the question to me at email@example.com and I’ll pose it to my readers in an upcoming issue.