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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Smoothstem Buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus)

A rather uncommon plant of central and western North Dakota, smoothstem buttercup also occurs from Alberta and British Columbia south to New Mexico and northern California at elevations up to 10,000 ft.

Smoothstem buttercup is perennial from slightly fleshy roots. Plants are usually less than 6 inches tall and mostly smooth. The numerous, spoon-shaped basal leaves are about 2-3 inches long, whereas the fewer, upper leaves are shallowly to deeply 3-lobed. Each stem bears from 1-3 yellow, five-petalled flowers nearly an inch wide. Flowers soon fade to white. Each flower produces about 30-150 tiny "seeds" (achenes) arranged in a globular cluster.

Look for smoothstem buttercup from late April to June in native grassland, especially around the bases of hills or other areas where soils are slightly moist. Plants seem not to be grazed by cattle and may be found in pastures where grazing intensity is high. Some buttercups contain a strong irritant that can harm the stomachs of livestock, but actual poisoning is rare because of the distasteful nature of the plants. Other buttercups are consumed as food and yet others are used for treating toothache, eye disorders, and rheumatism, but I could find no references to any economic uses for the species discussed here.

The name of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and the generic name Ranunculus are from the Latin for "a little frog," the name applied by the great Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder to these mostly aquatic plants that grow where frogs abound. The genus has about 300 species that mostly grow in north temperate or arctic regions. The specific epithet glaberrimus means "smooth (not hairy) on the lower parts" in botanical Latin. Smoothstem buttercup was first described for science in 1829 by the eminent British botanist Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865).

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