One vernacular name for this early-bloomer is "pilewort", named thus because the small fleshy roots of this plant resemble the affliction (haemorrhoids) and the plant was traditionally used to alleviate the symptoms of the malady. One common German name ("Scharbockskraut") relates back to the use of the vitamin-C rich leaves of the Lesser Celandine to treat scurvy.
This perennial herbaceous plant will grow between 10 and 30cm high. Its golden yellow flowers are easy to spot with their three sepals and 8 to 11 petals. Leaves are heart- to kidney-shaped and often shiny and fleshy. Stem is trailing on the ground to erect and hairless.
Occurring throughout Northern and Central Europe, this species is most often found in riparian forests, deciduous mixed forests with ample growth of herbaceous plants, gardens with fruit trees, damp meadows and hedgerows – especially in the spring.
Endangerment and Conservation Status
The species is not threatened.
Yet another common name for Ranunculus ficaria is "spring messenger", as the flower is often the first herald of spring, forming a green canopy on the ground before trees and shrubs have foliated. In May, this spring geophyte – e.g. a plant whose buds spend the winter underground – has already completed its life cycle, having blossomed and died back, remaining dormant under ground. Although the eye-catching yellow flowers are frequented by flies and bees, seeds are rarely developed. The Lesser Celandine propagates mostly by asexual means using its thick club-shaped roots and by way of the bulbils in its axils. The bulbils – about a large as a grain of wheat – fall from the now-dying plant shoots in May, over-winter on the ground's surface and grow to new plants the following spring.
Lesser Celandine may be toxic if large amounts are ingested; as a type of buttercup its leaves contain protoanemonin. During flowering the leaves contain especially large amounts of this toxin. In former times, the tubers of the plant were used as stand-ins for capers.