Buttercups and Berries

Celery-leaved buttercup

By late January, occasional patches of native buttercups begin appearing in city lots and rural pastures. One of our earliest spring blooms, two or more buttercup species flower in every region of Texas, although populations tend to be more dense in the eastern third of the state. Water-loving, they often can be found decorating seeps, mud flats, ditches, or standing shallow water.

This year, my first buttercup sighting involved a species new to me: Ranunculus sceleratus. Known as the celery-leaved buttercup, it also bears the names blister buttercup and cursed buttercup, thanks to the plant’s ability  to blister human skin and lead to illness or death in livestock.

While all buttercups are toxic due to the presence of a substance called protoanemonin, the ‘cursed’ buttercup contains the highest amount of the chemical, and should be treated with respect.

The appearance of buttercups serves as a reminder to begin looking for the so-called Indian Strawberry (Potentilla indica, formerly Duchesnea indica). Introduced from southern Asia as an ornamental, its name refers to the country of India rather than to Native Americans. Unlike the native wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), this ‘mock’ strawberry’s flowers are yellow, not white, and its fruit is edible but tasteless.

Despite being non-native, the flowers attract a variety of small bees and flower flies; hoverflies appear especially drawn to them.

As the drupes develop, they remains erect, enclosed by the flower’s sepals.

Despite their small size — about a half-inch across — the ripened drupes are attractive. Their resemblance to cultivated strawberries probably has led more than a few people to give them a try.

Despite their bland taste, this ‘mock strawberry’ serves another purpose. It’s a reminder that strawberry picking will have begun again at Froberg’s Farm. A long-standing local tradition, their strawberry season runs from mid-to-late January until early May. With Froberg’s berries already available to purchase or pick, there’s no need to resort to the Indian strawberry.


Comments always are welcome.

57 thoughts on “Buttercups and Berries

    1. Winter gardens were a real surprise to me when I first moved here. The farmers’ markets have plenty of freshly harvested carrots, broccoli, turnips, cabbage, and so on — and now that the strawberries are coming in, it’s time to use up the frozen peaches and blueberries before the new crops come in. Granted, it will be a few months yet, but the time is coming. The dewberries will be first. I looked yesterday and found some new leaves on the vines; their fruit usually begins to ripen in April. Cobbler!

    1. I’ve wondered in the past why a couple of pastures where I see cows all winter suddenly have no cows when they fill up with buttercups. Although the species that grows in those pastures differs, it may be that the animals get moved (or moo-ved!) to get them away from trouble.

  1. Such lovely colorful pictures to brighten this grey day! (and the strawberries are a wonderful treat this time of year)
    Those yellow blooms are like tiny ballerinas wearing crowns…it’s a wonder with all toxic plants we kids managed to survive a “growing up wild” childhood.

    1. Given the rain, I’d thought of going out to the farm to get some strawberries, but of course, given the rain, the fields are muddy and closed today and tomorrow. No matter; there will be plenty of time.

      I suppose with a lot of plants, the dose makes the difference. Poisonous mushrooms are one thing, but I’ve never heard even a tale of someone around here dying because of oleander consumption, and they’re everywhere. I suspect that in many cases — especially like ours — the adults around us did a lot of educating while we weren’t even aware of it.

    1. Like Florida and California, we have fresh produce in every month. The timing can vary, depending on conditions, but people often plant fall gardens. Even tomatoes will produce again in the fall, after the summer heat eases, and some veggies prefer the colder temperatures.

      I often see insects visiting these flowers, but I’ve read that birds will eat the fruits. I’d love to come across that, or a rabbit nibbling on the leaves.

    1. Believe me, I’m glad our gloomy day is due to rain rather than to ice or snow. It’s a little raw despite that, but in a couple of weeks, spring’s really going to be here. The traditional day to prune roses in Valentine’s Day, and that’s nearly here. Stay warm and snug!

  2. Nice going with those early-in-the-year wildflowers. You seem to be ahead of the central part of the state (or I haven’t been to the right sites yet).

    The species name sceleratus caught my attention because that Latin word means ‘wicked, accursed, infamous, vicious.’ Then I saw your statement that this plant “also bears the names blister buttercup and cursed buttercup, thanks to the plant’s ability to blister human skin and lead to illness or death in livestock.” Botanists do seem to prize whimsy.

    1. After our near-freeze, things are starting to come back. Yesterday I found oxalis, plenty of crow poison, a couple of non-native cool weather lovers, and the best treasure of all: Texas tauschia. I’ll do a post about that one; it’s the Texas endemic I was afraid had been eliminated by construction at the Dudney Nature Center, but it’s coming back.

      At least I’ve figured out why the cattle and horses I see in certain pastures seem to disappear when the buttercups are at their height. I presume they’re moved to different pastures to avoid the risks associated with the plants.

  3. Wow, this is fascinating! It’s hard to realize that y’all have things growing at this time of year, whereas we’re looking at months before we emerge from winter.Too bad this strawberry doesn’t taste as sweet and juicy as regular strawberries.

    1. Apparently the birds will feed on it, even though humans don’t find it to their taste. Not only that, the fruit is so small it would take forever to pick even a cupful. I’ll stick with our dewberries, strawberries, and blueberries; they not only taste better, you can get enough for a cobbler or pie in much less time.

      Even though it is winter here, any freezes we get tend to be short-lived. A lot of the winter veggies do very well, and if things don’t go downhill too badly, even the strawberries survive. I’ve driven past Froberg’s fields in cold weather, and all those berries are nicely tucked in under their freeze blankets!

  4. I haven’t seen any buttercups yet, just dandelions and 10 petal anemones. Chuckled and cleaver is coming on strong though. And of course the one bluebonnet flower.

    1. You are the champion of early anemones. Every year, I first hear of them from you. I’m thinking I might have a look around this coming weekend, and see if I can find some in the areas where they’ve popped up in the past: those that aren’t in the process of being turned into subdivisions, that is.

      I’m almost sorry that ‘Chuckled and cleaver’ turned out to be Chickweed. I spent a little time trying to imagine what kind of plant you were talking about. I finally decided it might be your term for what happens when you head out with your machete to tackle the vines and such. You chuckle and cleave at the same time!

  5. Spring bloom in January? Guess you didn’t have much of a ‘winter’. Interesting phrase: buttercup sighting. Mine will have to wait till June or July. Yes, we do have buttercups.

    1. It’s not at all unusual for strawberries to be ready by mid-to-late January, or for the first wildflowers to begin appearing. By mid-February, it’s going to be real spring around here — unless we get another odd freeze like we did last Valentine’s Day. It doesn’t look like we will, so I’m trying to get some projects finished at work — I’d love to be able to take a week to do another wildflower tour.

      It’s true that ‘winter’ is a relative term down here. When it gets down to 5C or 6C, people start grumping; when it gets below freezing, you’d think we were in the Arctic. (And I’m one of those grumpers!)

  6. Winter colors in nature! Love it.

    To find a buttercup we would need to head a bit north in the state. The Indian Strawberry is found in scattered locations but I’ve never run across it.

    About a hundred years ago, we were flung into the wild environs of upstate New York where we were pleasantly surprised to discover a few spots where wild strawberries were common. And sweet.

    We are blessed to live next door to a premier strawberry-growing region. Early berries have been available since Christmas, and we have been gorging!

    1. That’s interesting. I think of Florida in terms of citrus, but not strawberries. Lucky you to be able to enjoy them even earlier; I don’t think there’s anything better than ‘just strawberries’ with whipped cream.

      As for Indian strawberries, in your context the name reminded me of Indian River grapefruit. I just looked up the Indian River, which I’d never done, and found it described as a hundred or so mile long ‘brackish lagoon.’ I don’t remember that from any of the advertising for the fruit! When I went to the Florida Grapefruit growers’ page, they described the Indian River as being 200 miles long, but some of the sellers talked about the lagoon. At least I know where the place is now — and after looking at all those ads, I’m hungry for citrus, not strawberries!

      1. I had a great aunt who owned several hundred acres of Indian River citrus groves. When I last visited her, over 50 years ago, she had just turned 99 and was re-reading War and Peace – with a magnifying glass. For me, the part of her groves I liked best was a stand of “sand” pear trees. Made THE best preserves ever!

        1. I’ve never heard of a sand pear, but when you mentioned preserves, I wondered if they’re akin to what we call ‘canning pears’ — rounder, harder pears that never are eaten fresh, but that make wonderful jams, pies, preserves, and such. Sure enough. This article could just as easily have been written about our Texas pears.

          Pears aside, what a wonderful memory of your great aunt. Continuing to read at that age — even with a magnifying glass — is terrific. Tackling War and Peace takes it to another level!

    1. If you do indulge in a little G&S, just be sure to put on your pinafore before you start to sing! I can’t wait for our other buttercups to start emerging. We have several species, and some of them are just gorgeous — big, too. When I see them, I always want to ask, Peter Sellers-like, “What’s up, Buttercup?”

  7. Pretty little thing and a nice cheery yellow for January. I thought that the fruit looked more like a raspberry when I first scrolled through the post this morning, before reading. I suppose birds munch on these?

    1. I’ve not seen the birds nibbling the fruit, but I’ve read that they will. Also, the rabbits enjoy the leaves. Apparently in good conditions this can spread quite enthusiastically and make a nice ground cover; one woman I read about planted it on purpose to give her yard rabbits something to eat, to keep them away from her garden. Whether it worked, I don’t know.

    1. Despite its toxicity, it’s not nearly as problematic as something like poison ivy. Just brushing up against it won’t cause problems; it’s crushed leaves or stems that cause the problem. I suspect it might be an issue for people who are clearing brush or such. I nosed right up to it with no ill effects!

    1. One of our native buttercups is larger, and resembles the flower popularly known as Ranunculus. I really can see that flower in the first pattern, in the edging around the neckline. Pretty flowers, pretty sweaters!

    1. Someone else mentioned raspberries; I’d not thought of that, but I can see it now. They’re the cutest things, but it would take some time to collect enough to put on cereal. They’re about the size of an English pea — or smaller.

  8. I had no idea, either, that buttercups were toxic. I guess it’s a good thing I never stuck one in my mouth as a child.

    I suspect that the ‘wild strawberries’ I did taste as a child were the false ones. I recall them being absolutely tasteless.

    1. If they were tiny, they probably were the ‘false’ ones. I’ve read that wild strawberries are equally small, but sweeter — the sort you’d be pleased to eat. As for buttercup tasting, I can’t remember ever giving one a try, either. It’s interesting that we all indulged in clover and honeysuckle. I can’t remember anyone teaching us which were good and which to stay away from; maybe kids instinctively know.

  9. Ah, sipping on honeysuckle nectart! I also sipped petunias. There was always sour weed along the roadsides and in fields to pluck and chew.

    1. I had no idea petunias could be ‘sipped.’ I need to give that a try. I wonder if our native species are as sweet — probably are, given the number of butterflies and such I see visiting them!

  10. Very interesting about the different species of buttercups, and about their toxicity. I wasn’t aware of that. Your talk of spring has me looking forward to warming weather, though there’ll still be a bit of a wait.

    1. We have another week of cold weather ahead of us, but today’s gorgeous, and I’m just about to head out to enjoy it. Yesterday, I saw vacant lots filled with a different buttercup species: the most common in our area. I can’t remember which one it is, but I’ll figure it out. There’s yet another that I see in the more central part of the state. It’s quite large, and looks more like the grocery store flower that’s commonly known by the genus name: Ranunculus.

      Yesterday’s blizzard certainly was something to see. The latest snow I can remember from Iowa was in the 1960s, and it showed up at Easter. I hope you’re done with such much earlier than that!

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