Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) is an invasive plant species with beautiful bright yellow flowers and dark green leaves. The plants might appear pretty but do not get deceived by their charming looks as this exotic species has the ability to disrupt your whole garden due to their rapid growth and great adaptive potential in moist or wetlands. In this article we will talk about how to control lesser celandine in your yard.
Until recently, the plant was not considered a threat to the local ecosystem but due to currently reported aggressive invasive behavior of lesser celandine in South California, farmers are advised to take necessary precautions.
How to Identify lesser celandine
The lesser celandine is an invasive spring perennial herb, short up to 12 inch and fast-growing. It is a spring ephemeral plant having abundant tuberous roots and bulblets. The aboveground part of the lesser celandine dies in early June. However, the plant spends most of the time of year underground as underground stems, fingerlike and thickened tubers. Each tuber and bulblet have the ability to reproduce into a new plant separated from the parent.
These tubers and bulblets may be scattered or unearthed by digging, animal or human activities and rain or flooding.
Lesser celandine is also known as pilewort or Fig buttercup. The scientific name of the invasive plant is Ficaria verna Huds. formerly Ranunculus ficaria. The species belong to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Ficaria and verna are Latin words meaning “fig” and “spring”. It is an early-blooming perennial herbaceous plant forming low growing mats.
The invasive plant species was originated in Northern Africa and Europe. It was introduced as an ornamental plant in the U.S during the 19th century. The plant is still available commercially in the U.S in different colors and varieties.
The basal leaves of the plant are shiny, deep green, kidney to heart-shaped, stalked and vary in size.
Flowers and Fruits
The bright yellow, showy flowers (3 in. wide) have 7-12 petals arranged in the rosette form, grow on the delicate stalk above the leaves. Tiny inconspicuous flowers are present in the center of the flower. Lesser celandine flowers turn white after aging. They are hermaphrodite and pollinated by beetles, flies and bees. The fruit is 2.5 mm long, underdeveloped achene, pubescent and short bristles is present on its tip.
Flowers behave differently in different weather conditions and close before raining and even in fine weather. They do not open before 9 o’clock. The plant also referred to as Grian (the sun) or spring messenger. When it blooms in spring they appear like a large green carpet with yellow dots.
Distribution and habitat
Lesser celandine is found as an invasive plant in Northeastern States, Pacific Northwest, Midwest and mainly in Washington, Oregon and several provinces of Canada.
The plant most commonly occurs in wetlands, sandy soils, moist alluvial soils and forested flood plains. Lesser celandine is most commonly found in low open woods, roadsides, waste places and meadows. The yellow flowers of Lesser celandine bloom during March and April and quickly cover the ground.
Food value of lesser celandine
All the parts of the plants are poisonous and cannot be eaten except stems and flowers of young plants can be used as food after boiling or blanching. The first leaves, stalks and buds of young plants can be used in a salad like spinach. The bulbils grow at leaf axil and roots can also be used as food supplements. The mature plant parts should be completely avoided due to their toxic nature. Be careful while using the plant as food.
Medicinal value of lesser celandine
Lesser celandine is not recommended for internal use due to its poisonous nature. However, the plant has a greater medicinal value and has been used to treat ulcers and hemorrhoids or piles for thousands of years.
- The whole plant including root is used as astringent. The fresh plant contains protoanemonin (Poisonous in nature) which has great anti-fungal properties.
- In the past, the plant was used as a remedy for acne, allergies, difficult digestion and to treat perineal damage caused during women’s childbirth.
- The young leaves of plants have a rich quantity of Vitamin C, helpful to treat scurvy.
- The lesser celandine plant is harvested during March and April. The dried plant parts can be used to prepare ointments and infusions for medicinal purposes.
Harmful effects of lesser celandine
The contact with this poisonous plant can cause irritation or an allergic reaction to the skin. The intake of the plant should be avoided due to the presence of several toxins.
In severe cases, lesser celandine can cause liver damage or induce vomiting when taken in large doses. The use of lesser celandine should be avoided in pregnancy or during breastfeeding.
Ecological Threats of lesser celandine
Lesser celandine is an exotic plant species that aggressively spreads, faster than most of the native plant species. The plant has great potential to displace the native spring ephemerals with their thick mat of vegetation. This can negatively affect the native pollinators which are dependent on the spring ephemeral for pollens and nectars in the condition of lesser food sources.
The plant forms large dense patches on the ground and disrupts natural vegetation. The plants that may be displaced by the lesser celandine include trillium, Virginia bluebells and wild ginger. In Oregon, several reports are received of the infestation of lesser celandine in natural areas.
You can lose the diversity in your yard due to this invasive plant species. It significantly messes with the plants, animal and insects in your garden.
Moreover, the abundant growth of the plant can also be a threat to animal livestock due to its toxic nature. Due to the great reproduction capacity of lesser celandine through bulblets, root tubules and seeds, farmers are now considering it as a great threat for sustainable vegetation.
Recently, regulatory officials of South California have taken serious measures due to the invasive nature of lesser celandine and it is now illegal in the respective state. Moreover, in different states efforts are being made to slow down the spread of this invasive plant species.
How does lesser celandine spread?
Fig buttercup or lesser celandine can easily grow from viable seeds, bulbils from the axil of leaves or the root tubules.
The plant grows in early spring before the growth of native spring plants. They have a short life span but can cause havoc for the other plants.
Due to the rapid growth and a large number of root tubules, it requires persistence to completely control lesser celandine in your yard.
How to control lesser celandine
Before eradication or removal of lesser celandine, you need to correctly identify the plant species to avoid any damage to lesser celandine resembling native spring plants like marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), celandine (Chelidonium majus), and celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum).
An infestation of lesser celandine can be removed manually whereas herbicides can be more effective to completely eradicate the plant from your yard. The plant is difficult to control, you need to be persistent when it comes to removing lesser celandine from your yard.
One effective method to prevent the weed from growing in your garden is to use mulch. Mulch the soil with a 4 inch thick layer of organic matter. It is a natural weed control method that can be fruitful to control lesser celandine.
To manually control lesser celandine, dig up the infested soil with a shovel or simply pull the plants by hand. Remove every tuber and bulblet from the soil for effective results.
Flame weeding with the help of a propane-based torch is another effective technique, but roots/bulblets may not be affected. The method of flame weeding is also used to control several other weeds.
For the complete eradication of lesser celandine chemical treatment is considered to be most effective.
The most reliable systemic herbicide currently used to control lesser celandine is glyphosate. The herbicide is applied to the plants after the growth of leaves but prior to the flowering. Apply 1 to 1.5% rate of 53.8% active glyphosate. The addition of non-ionic surfactant in the solution can be helpful in herbicide uptake by the plant. Try to only target the lesser celandine vegetation to avoid the impact on other plants.
The effects of the herbicide treatment will be visible in 1-2 weeks. Repeat for three years in a row for the complete removal of lesser celandine. Some examples of glyphosate spray are Doff Glyphosate Weedkiller, SBM Job done General Purpose Weedkiller and Roundup Fast Action.
The 20% grade of acetic acid is an effective organic alternative to glyphosate. Acetic acid is a strong acid that can be used to burn the vegetation of lesser celandine that is above ground, whereas the roots and bulblets will not be affected.
Some of the selective weed killers which are MCPA based such as Weedol lawn weedkiller and Vitax lawn clear 2 can be effective to control lesser celandine in your lawn. For best results, you need to repeat the treatment of herbicides following years. Similar to the application of glyphosate, the first application of herbicide should be after leaf development and the second application will be 3 or 4 weeks later.