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.
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