by Ian Brand

FAVOURITE spring flower? It has to be Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna). I am in good company; it was also William Wordsworth’s, who wrote three poems about this spring messenger. These yellow star-like flowers can often be seen carpeting woodlands, hedge banks and also annoying gardeners, with a splash of colour and glossy green heart-shaped leaves. Sadly for Wordsworth, the stonemasons asked to engrave a celandine on his tombstone, carved a Greater Celandine by mistake (a completely different species belonging to the Poppy family). Make sure to admire these flowers on a sunny, dry day as the petals close at the first sign of rain and also in the evening.

The Lesser Celandine is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and as such has a simple structure loved by biology teachers teaching floral anatomy. It is a relatively primitive flowering plant, in evolutionary terms, compared to the likes of the daisy, orchid and grass families. It is therefore always found at the start of any botanical flora.

Although attractive above ground, it cannot be said to look at its best beneath, with small root tubers (just like Dahlias). These small tubers looking like piles, gave the plant the alternative name of Pilewort and were used to treat haemorrhoids based upon “The Doctrine of Signatures” that if it looked like a pile it could be used to treat piles!

There are two different types (or sub-species) of Lesser Celandine, the full details of which are probably beyond the scope of this article. But put simply, it depends upon the genetics; one has two sets of chromosomes like us humans (i.e. diploid), and the other a whopping four sets (ie: tetraploid). Both have root tubers as a method of propagation, but one in addition produces small bulbils or tubers at its plant base which will drop-off and grow into new plants, but will develop little or no seed. The other sets a large amount of seed but does not produce any bulbils.

The Lesser Celandine may not be every gardener’s favourite plant, spreading vigorously by the above methods and difficult to eradicate. So do what I do and enjoy it while it lasts, knowing that by late spring the flowers and foliage would have disappeared leaving room for your summer blooms. Growth will not start again until late winter, as the tubers need a six month period of dormancy and the embryos in the seeds need time to mature before germinating after a period of winter chilling.