Buttercups are familiar wildflowers, favouring open waste ground and acidic soils throughout Nova Scotia, not to mention the middle of the back lawn. Their irritant qualities are probably the basis of the children’s game in which one child presses a buttercup to the sensitive skin just below the chin, “to see if you like butter.” The slight redness caused by such casual contact is supposed, in the game, to indicate a butter lover.
Prolonged contact can have more uncomfortable results. The breakdown of a glycoside releases a blister-inducing juice, found in many species while fresh.
Generally buttercups have yellow cup-like flowers and deeply divided leaves, which may or may not be fuzzy.
Sap, flowers, seeds, and leaves of all members, with the greatest concentration of the toxin occurring in vigorous growth shoots. Dried plant material is usually harmless.
Buttercups and clematis: Glycoside, a severe skin irritant.
Monkshood, delphinium, marsh marigold, baneberry, and larkspur: Highly toxic alkaloids.
TYPICAL POISONING SCENARIO
Contact with and/or consumption of leaves or flowers by livestock or by children who are attracted by the often-showy flowers. In the case of buttercups and clematis, the strong, acrid taste deters further consumption, so fatalities are rare. The poisons in monkshood, delphinium, marsh marigold, baneberry, and larkspur, however, are very much more potent, so ingestion of a small quantity is dangerous.
Another possible cause of poisoning by this group of plants is the abuse of herbal medicines prepared from them. These medicines are almost never taken internally and even when used externally can cause skin irritation.
Buttercups and Clematis typically cause irritation and blistering of the skin if handled, and- if swallowed- intense burning of the mouth and digestive tract, followed by nausea and convulsions. Luckily, the stuff tastes so bad that victims rarely get to this state, but gardeners should be sure to wear gloves before weeding the buttercups or planting out clematis!
The Alkaloid In Monkshood, Delphiniums, Baneberry And Larkspur causes burning of the mouth and throat, confusion, dizziness, headaches and vomiting. In severe poisoning, breathing difficulty, then paralysis, are followed by convulsions and Death from asphyxiation and circulatory failure. However, most victims do recover within 24 hours.
How to grow Buttercups
Buttercups can be started from roots these should be buried about 5cm deep. When growing Buttercups and other Ranunculus species from seeds it is best to start them in flats in the spring. Ranunculus seeds should be lightly covered once sown, then the flat put into a plastic bag and placed in the fridge for three weeks. The flat should then be removed from the bag and sank into a shady part of the garden and covered with glass.
Seed germination takes from two weeks to three months; as soon as the seedlings emerge transplant them to their final location. Buttercup (Ranunculus) prefer to grow in a partially shaded area or in sunny areas that have moist soils.
Caring for buttercups and similar Ranunculus plants
It is pretty easy to look after Ranunculus; they should be watered during prolonged dry spells or if growing in a sunny area. They like a cool soil so mulch the plants in the spring time. If you require more plants then they can be propagated by division in the spring or autumn.
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