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Buckle up buttercup

The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, the buttercups are starting to bloom. It’s time to get excited for another spring season. For many of us native plant enthusiasts, seeing a buttercup in bloom signals an imminent season change and the return of some of our favorite wildflowers to our local wildlands and gardens.

I snapped a couple of glamor shots of this little beauty, a sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus), not too far from the nursery on March 13th.

It’s a fairly common wildflower in Western Montana and one of our earliest bloomers. It has been known to bloom as early as February but more commonly flowers in the months of March and April. Sagebrush buttercup is one of many native members of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), many of which bloom early in the growing season in the Western United states. We are lucky to have a representative array of plants naturally occurring in our area that come from this family including annual and perennial forbs from the Ranunculus, Delphinium and Thalictrum plant genera as well as vines species from the Clematis genus.

Evolutionarily speaking, many consider the Ranunculaceae family to be one of the most early-diverging plant families of the angiosperms (flowering plants). Members of the buttercup plant family have relatively primitive reproductive structures which lend their flowers a complicated and highly ornamental look. Many species in Ranunculaceae have numerous spiraling and unfused reproductive parts (as seen in the photo of our sagebrush buttercup below). So a good sign you are looking at a member of the Ranunculaceae family is if you see a lot of stamens and pistils on a single flower.

Beyond just being some of the earliest flowering plants to evolve, members of the buttercup family display incredibly diverse and beautiful flower and leaf structures making them great additions to wild or managed landscapes and important food sources for wildlife in the spring. So, if you are looking for a native species that bring color, interest and increased ecological function to a springtime garden, we encourage everyone to check out native members of the buttercup family including:

  • Pacific Anemone (Anemone multifida)

  • Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)

  • Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia flavescens)

  • Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

  • Hairy Clematis (Clematis hirsutissima)

  • Western Clematis (Clematis ligusticifolia)

  • Western Blue Virgin’s Bower (Clematis occidentalis)

  • Eastern Pasqueflower Pulsatilla patens)

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