It’s pretty, but invasive– Get rid of lesser celandine

lesser celandine in Buffalo NY by Mike Fabrizio
It may look like a pretty flower, but you should dig up and get rid of this invasive plant called lesser celandine. Photo courtesy Mike Fabrizio.

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.

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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 mgeriecce@gmail.com. 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 connie@buffaloniagaragardening.com and I’ll pose it to my readers in an upcoming issue.

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25 Comments on “It’s pretty, but invasive– Get rid of lesser celandine

  1. Can round up be used on this stuff, we have quite an invasion of it, so I would have to dig quite a bit to get rid of it!

  2. This plant appeared in my front yard last year. Even before I knew what it was I knew it was bad. It spreads so fast and is almost impossible to dig up. I tried to get it all out of my yard last year, this year it came back stronger than ever and also in my back yard.
    If you search “lesser celandine” on the web there are several sites that explain a chemical method to be applied very early in the season, like feb or march, so I plan to get to that next year. Meanwhile, hours of digging up the buggers!

  3. I have used two pronged method….round up on big invasions and digging up. When I spot tiny, tiny leaves on new plants, I pull them up and deny them sun. There are fewer each year in my yard. I imported them not knowing how invasive they were 8 years ago, but now I dig up the round little tubers to ensure that they don’t spread before the flowers go to seed.

  4. Of course you can use Roundup to get of rid of Lesser Celandine. However 1) it takes time for it to be effective as it must get to the roots. This can take several weeks. Anything else that gets accidentally sprayed will be damaged or die as well. 2) I would continue to dig out as much as is reasonable for you. 3) I would also suggest that you mark the area (golf tees for ex.) so you know where to check next year.

  5. Just when I thought I had the garlic mustard under control in my yard, here is another invasive species! I have two big clumps of it…wish I knew sooner, but thanks for the info.

  6. Would love to have a solution that actually works for this stuff. It appeared in my area (western Phila. suburbs) a few years ago, and now covers *everything*. We have always had a “live and let live” kind of lawn, and haven’t used chemicals on it in the nearly 20 years that we’ve lived here. However, this stuff is so terrible that we actually caved in last year and applied a broad weed poison directly on the plants. With plants like adjuga or ground ivy, you can just mow them down along with the grass, but with lesser celandine, mowing leaves a yellowish white patch on your lawn wherever the flowers are. Digging it out is only a solution if you have it in very limited areas. The minuscule bulbs under the ground are IMPOSSIBLE to eradicate entirely, and if your entire lawn is covered, you will certainly miss enough of them to have made the exercise a waste of time. Short of having my entire lawn, front and back, dug out and reseeded, can you suggest anything other than Roundup that will effectively kill lesser celandine?

  7. My yard is a total mess with this awful plant. My lawn service cannot contain it…….I’m going to have to destroy my flower gardens and I am just so totally depressed about it…. looking out at my yard and seeing that sea of yellow buttercups just makes me sick. I sure would like to know how to kill it. I’m wasting money on my lawn service as there is nothing they can do. Also, my neighbors don’t seem to do anything about this plant either. It is just an exercise in futility. It is spreading all over my neighborhood.

  8. As I write this it is pouring. Right after the rain would be a great time to pull this stuff out. Just be sure to get all the tubers! I know no one wants to hear it but the only solutions are digging and Roundup.

  9. I applied round up yesterday. It’s the perfect time, they aren’t really big yet and the other things around it aren’t up, so I didn’t have to worry too much about hitting the wrong thing with the round up. Their bright green color really stands out in the lawn now too, so it was easy to spot.

  10. I’ve now read elsewhere that you must treat in February and March — which is I guess why our broadleaf weed killer, applied in late spring, hasn’t helped. We’re going to do some digging this year (but really, we’d have to dig up the entire lawn, and those teeny bulbs are VERY easy to miss), and apply something heinous and chemically next winter.

  11. Just to report back, I had pretty good luck with the round up. I ended up applying twice a week apart in mid April. Since everything was late in coming up this year, it worked, even though I didn’t apply it in Feb-March as was reported (but then in WNY would it ever be up in Fed-March?). The newer spots died back to the bare ground. The original more established clump is fighting a bit harder, and keeps sending up new leaves. I am going to try and reapply to that one more time, but I imagine I will have to be watchful for it there again next year. I found some new clumps in the side lawn too. Now I have big holes in my grass to fill!

  12. I feel badly for people who have to deal with invasive species. Lesser celandine is valued in Great Britain where it is native and non aggressive. The poet William Wordsworth loved it; JR Tolkien mentions it I Two Towers. and it is listed in herbals as a medicinal plant (it was called “pile wort” ). But these folks were British….

  13. It is very pretty, especially at a time when not much is growing and blooming and it nicely dies back to the ground for summer, but it comes back worse every year and starts to threaten other plants and grass and before you know it it’s running amok in your yard! I left it alone initially, but it started to go crazy and take over! I am not to fond of things that don’t grow neatly and confine themselves to the garden. I don’t mind volunteer plants that are easy to pull up if they spring up unwanted or can be left to grow if it works out, but this stuff is insane! I don’t even know where it came from. I had never seen it before it just appeared in my yard a few years ago.

  14. There is no hope against a battle with Lesser Celandine, and this lawn cancer first appeared in my yard in 2013. My neighborhood exists upon a swale that drains into a small tributary that eventually leads to the Patapsco River. Hence the ground, especially in the spring, is rather moist- thereby supplying this bright green and yellow blossomed monstrosity all it needs to utterly take over ones lawn.

    Pulling it up along with its tubers and then afterward covering the areas where it once was – is one way to (temporarily) solve the onslaught. Unfortunately, by covering the ground also kills everything else, including grass. But hey, in order to purge this ‘ground covering’ one sometimes needs to resort to drastic measures – right? Well, next season, simply replant your grass and you’re good to go! Oh, almost forgot to mention, the seeds from surrounding lawns will sooner than later find their way back into your yard; and the cycle repeats.

    Best advice, spare the environment of poisonous chemicals, spare yourself of the iteration of trying to fight this futile and pitched battle – just smile at all your new yellow blossomed friends, because they are here to stay.

    Btw, my greatest fear… is of Greater Celandine!

    Feed me Seymour.

  15. Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you live in Maryland, so I can’t really address your problem since your growing conditions are very different from what we experience here in Western New York. But because lesser celandine is an invasive species that crowds out native plants, I would heed Carol Ann Harlos’s advice and do your best to get rid of it. That would probably include telling your neighbors about the problem. As Carol points out, this is a problem not just for your lawn and your neighbors’ lawns, but for forests and other uncultivated spaces where this plant could take over. Best of luck!

  16. The round up worked really well for me. The infestation is about 90% lighter this year than it was last year. If you spray as they are first coming up nothing much else is coming up, so it’s easier not to overspray onto good plants.

  17. Well, it’s only a solution for those of us willing to use a Monsanto poison on our lawns. For the rest of us, not so much! We’re in high Lesser Celandine season right now in the Philadelphia suburbs, and I’m ready to cry: there’s more yellow on the lawn than ever! We’ll patiently spray individual plants by hand with clove spray, and then reseed the lawn after the celandine dies. It’s so frustrating!

  18. Connie, be aware though that clove spray will kill EVERYTHING it touches. We only use it because we have an older pool, with an old cement sidewalk around it, and we don’t ever want anything growing in the separations between the slabs, or between the sidewalk and the pool coping. So after the clove spray does its work, you will have to wait a few weeks or months, and then reseed.

  19. Is there a natural herbicide that will kill it? I know that you can mis one with vinegar and epson salts. Will that work on this? I have pulled every year and it comes back stronger. I can’t use round-up because I have dogs. Help!

  20. We did an update on lesser celandine last year, which you can find here. You have to kill the roots. I don’t know that vinegar and epsom salts will do that. If you’re desperate, you can try solarization, which, in theory, cooks the roots, but that might not work on lesser celandine, either. You can read about it in last year’s article. Good luck!

  21. I love to garden & I am glad to know there’s somewhere else I can go, besides the Botanical Gardens, when I have an issue. Thanks! Very well put article.

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