Thursday, January 17, 2013
Ranunculaceae – Meet the Buttercup Family
The Buttercup family is in the Magnolia subclass. The Buttercups are considered “simple” because all of the flower parts are all indefinite in number and separate. The pistils, stamens, sepals, and petals all being distinctly separate parts. The stamens and pistils are spirally inserted in a cone –like receptacle. More advanced plant families have reduced and more specific floral parts which are often fused together.
The lack of pattern is the most common pattern of this family! Buttercups may have regular or irregular flowers. These flowers can have between 3- 15 sepals, often the same color as the petals, and 0 – 23 petals. There might be numerous stamens, and 3 – many simple pistils (apocarpous). The floral parts are all attached below a superior ovary, independently. Most have bisexual flowers. There are 23 genera here in North America.
The most accurate pattern to look for is the multiple simple pistils at the center of the flower. More advanced flowers usually have just one. So if you have a flower with multiple pistils, you might have a Buttercup, but, it could be confused with a member of the Rose subfamily of the Rose family. You might look for a hook at the end of the pistil as a means of identifying. Unfortunately, the most assured way of knowing if you have a Buttercup family plant is to taste it. Most of this species is labeled as poisonous, but most are safe to taste, and then spit out. They taste biting and acrid due to protoanemonin glycoside oil. Medicinally this acrid quality makes them usefully medicinally, like you would a mustard plaster.. just don’t leave them on too long as they can burn you. Please don’t experiment with the Buttercup family unless you have some knowledge and aptitude folks! Warning: Aconitum and Delphinium have concentrations of toxic terpenoid alkaloids! These alkaloids depress the central nervous system. Useful in nervous disorder, antispasmodics and sedatives, but only by professionals! Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis is a local example of the Buttercup Family in my area. Occasionally found in our woods in the moist spots, an understory plant where light can just be dappled. Sometimes, I find them in largish colonies.. I have a colony started in my own gardens as this plant has been overharvested in the wild and is at risk..Interestingly, there are no petals to the flower. The white stamens are what give it the color you see in the photo. The fruit looks like a red raspberry :)
Antiseptic, astringent, diuretic and laxative are some of it’s medicinal applications. I like to decoct a tiny amount and add it to my neti pot when faced with sinus troubles that may lead into infection. Makes a great throat gargle too when your throat is sore. Not a plant to use daily as excess use can over stimulate your nervous system. Overuse can cause excessive build up of white corpuscles, miscarriage, and convulsions. Use it during your acute need but not for chronic conditions folks.
Black Cohosh, Cimicifuga racemosa is another occasional in our woods, so I grow it my gardens. It likes the same environment as the Goldenseal and like it, the flower has no petals. The white is from the tight cluster of 50 - 100+ long stamens surrounding a white stigma. Flies are greatly attracted to it because the flowers smell pretty foetid. Don’t go put your nose on them expecting something sweet smelling! But the plant is gorgeous and looks stunning in the garden. Medicinally the leaves and roots have some sedating qualities, are antispasmodic (good for cramps, ladies), anti-inflammatory and are peripheral vasodilators. The roots have found fame as helpful during menopause to help with hot flashes related to the luteinizing hormone surges.
Autumn Clematis, Clematis terniflora is one plant I especially look forward to the flowering of.. as do my bees! I still remember the first time I noticed their scent.. and had to follow my nose to discover this plant.. heavenly, sweet, a bit of honey scent.. just absolutely intoxicating! A perennial vine that can reach 30 foot tall.. The long petiols of the leaves reach out and grab onto anything to climb, sometimes just enveloping trees next to where it grows. It has been used for centuries in Japan as a diuretic and to treat gout. It has properties that could be beneficial in treating skin infections and cataracts. The flowers and leaves are said to be edible. I confess to have never eaten nor used this plant medicinally.. another for the list to explore further as it is naturalized in my area, and I started one in my daughter’s gardens for her.
Herbal and Honey Hugs to all who visit!
this post is part of my Lesson One exercise two of my class assignment.
Tom Elpel’s Botany in a Day
Don Kurz’s Illinois Wildflowers
WikiMedia photos of goldenseal and black cohosh
Illinois Wildflower website for the clematis photo