AskDefine | Define buttercup

Dictionary Definition

buttercup n : any of various plants of the genus Ranunculus [syn: butterflower, butter-flower, crowfoot, goldcup, kingcup]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. any of many herbs, of the genus Ranunculus, having yellow flowers; the crowfoot


buttercup herb

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Ranunculus is a large genus of about 400 species of plants in the Ranunculaceae. It includes the buttercups, spearworts, water crowfoots and the lesser celandine (but not the greater celandine of the poppy family Papaveraceae).
They are mostly herbaceous perennials with bright yellow or white flowers (if white, still with a yellow centre); some are annuals or biennials. A few have orange or red flowers and occasionally, as in R. auricomus, petals may be absent. The petals are often highly lustrous, especially in yellow species.
The Water crowfoots (Ranunculus subgenus Batrachium), which grow in still or running water, are sometimes treated in a separate genus Batrachium. They have two different leaf types, thread-like leaves underwater and broader floating leaves although for some species, such as R. aquatilis, a third, intermediate leaf form occurs.
Buttercups usually flower in April or May but flowers may be found throughout the summer especially where the plants are growing as opportunistic colonisers, as in the case of garden weeds.
All Ranunculus species are poisonous when eaten fresh by cattle, horses, and other livestock, but their acrid taste and the blistering of the mouth caused by their poison means they are usually left uneaten. Poisoning can occur where buttercups are abundant in overgrazed fields where little other edible plant growth is left, and the animals eat them out of desperation. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, excessive salivation, colic, and severe blistering of the mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract. When Ranunculus plants are handled, naturally occurring ranunculin is broken down to form protoanemonin, which is known to cause contact dermatitis in humans and care should therefore be exercised in excessive handling of the plants The toxins are degraded by drying, so hay containing dried buttercups is safe.
Ranunculus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Hebrew Character and Small Angle Shades.
Some species are popular ornamental flowers in horticulture, with many cultivars selected for large and brightly coloured flowers.
In the interior of the Pacific Northwest of the United States the buttercup is called ‘Coyote’s eyes’ — iceyéeyenm sílu in Nez Perce and spilyaynmí áčaš in Sahaptin. In the legend Coyote was tossing his eyes up in the air and catching them again when Eagle snatched them. Unable to see, Coyote made eyes from the buttercup.

Partial species list

and many more


The term sardonic (sardanios) "bitter or scornful laughter", which is often cited as deriving from the Sardinian plant (Ranunculus sardous), known as either (sardanē) or σαρδόνιον (sardonion). When eaten, it would cause the eater's face to contort in a look resembling scorn (generally followed by death). It might also be related to σαίρω (sairō) "I grin".


commons Ranunculus
buttercup in Czech: Pryskyřník
buttercup in Danish: Ranunkel
buttercup in German: Hahnenfuß
buttercup in Estonian: Tulikas
buttercup in Spanish: Ranunculus
buttercup in Esperanto: Ranunkolo
buttercup in Persian: آلاله
buttercup in French: Renoncule
buttercup in Italian: Ranunculus
buttercup in Hebrew: נורית
buttercup in Lithuanian: Vėdrynas
buttercup in Hungarian: Boglárka (nemzetség)
buttercup in Dutch: Boterbloem
buttercup in Japanese: ラナンキュラス
buttercup in Polish: Jaskier
buttercup in Romanian: Ranunculus
buttercup in Russian: Лютик
buttercup in Simple English: Buttercup
buttercup in Finnish: Leinikit
buttercup in Swedish: Smörblommor
buttercup in Ukrainian: Пшінка
buttercup in Walloon: Ranonke
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