top of page

Creeping buttercup / Ranunculus repens / G. buigheag

Creeeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) belongs to the group of the most common, hardy perennial herbs; easily distinguished and widely spread, it can be found gleaming along ditches and roadsides, in fields and meadows. It belongs to the ranunculus family, which derives from the Latin 'rana', meaning 'little frog'. A name chosen by a Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, most likely because many of the species grow in wet places inhabited by the amphibians. There are about 400-600 species of buttercups scattered worldwide, which can make identification of different species problematic. While most buttercup flower-heads are very similar to look at, the leaves can provide more information and much needed help. Those of the Creeping buttercup are hairy and have three lobes, the middle one of which has a noticeable stem. The flower stem is grooved and shows a notable creeping habit. ('The Orkney Book of Wildflowers' - T.Dean & A.Bignall, 2019)

It flowers mainly between May and August, its long, rooting runners helping it to spread across lawns - much to the dissatisfaction of some gardeners! Yet, this golden-cupped flower is a childhood favourite. Creeping buttercup is pollinated by short-tongued bees attracted by the nectar and pollen. They are able to reach the food with their tongue because the flower is open with a flat shape. Long-tongued bees can feed from long, deep flowers like Foxgloves.

Creeping buttercup / pen and ink drawing by Magdalena Choluj

The buttercup is kown by various names, including pilewort, crow's foot or crowfoot, as well as the lesser celandine, names that have been captured in poetry and prose. In Scotland, 'gowan' when used alone, can mean buttercup or daisy. Other common names include creeping crazy, devil’s guts, lantern leaves, old wife’s threads and tangle-grass.

Buttercups have had a variety of medicinal uses in Scotland, including the combat of bubonic plague. In the village of Glencoe, buttercups mixed with daisies were used as an ointment for bruises and sores. Ancient cultures have used its crushed flowers and leaves as a sedative, to cure headaches, and even the roots have been used as an infusion for diarrhoea. The plant contains the toxin ranunculin, and if eaten raw the flowers and leaves cause vomiting and dermatitis.


'The Orkney Book of Wildflowers' - T.Dean & A.Bignall, 2019

'Vickery's Folk Flora' - R. Vickery, 2019

'Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland' - W.Milliken & S.Bridgewater, 2013

'The Gaelic names of plants' - J.Cameron, first published 1900, 2019 re-print

'A contemplation Upon Flowers - Garden plants in myth and literature' - B.Ward, 1999


bottom of page