Spearwort Buttercup
Ranunculus flammula L.
Family: Ranunculaceae, Buttercup
Genus: Ranunculus
Other names: lesser spearwort, creeping buttercup
Nomenclature: flammula = little flame
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Medicinal plant
Toxic plant

General: low, hairless to sparingly flat-hairy perennial. Roots slender, not at all fleshy. Stems creeping to trailing, usually freely rooting at the nodes, up to 50 cm long, very slender to thicker and somewhat hollow, simple to sparingly branched.

Leaves: simple, entire, the blades from oblanceolate and up to 2 cm broad to narrowly linear and scarcely any broader than the slender stalks. Basal leaves long-stalked, stem leaves opposite, smaller, short-stalked to stalkless.

Flowers: solitary from nodes, on stalks up to 10 cm long. Sepals 5, usually more or less flat-short-hairy, 2-5 mm long. Petals usually 5 (to 11), yellow, 4-6 mm long. Nectary scale hairless, broader than long, shallowly pocketlike, the side edges joined, the upper edge straight to rounded. Receptacle nearly ovoid, hairless. May-July.

Fruits: achenes, 5-25 in a round cluster, mostly 2-3 mm long, hairless, finely net-veined to nearly smooth, beaked with the short, stout, curved style about 0.5 mm long.


Shores of streams, lakes and ponds, mostly in mud, often where brackish, plains to subalpine zone, in w. and s.c. parts of MT. Widespread in most of N. America.
Medicinal Uses

The whole plant spearwort buttercup has agents that strongly causes reddening or irritation when applied to the skin. A tincture of the plant has been used to cure ulcers.

Toxic Properties

All parts of buttercups are mildly poisonous when fresh, the toxins are destroyed by heat or by drying. The plant also has a strongly acrid juice that can cause blistering to the skin. Ingestion causes burning of the mouth, abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. Skin redness, burning sensation, and blisters may follow contact with the sap. The toxic principle is protoanemonin, released from the glycoside ranunculin. However, larger quantities must be eaten for serious toxic effects to be experienced.

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