Buttercups are simple but uplifting flowers that naturally grace lawns, fields, and roadsides, providing sprays of cheer, next to other native wildflowers which pollinators adore.
While most of us know the buttercup as the decider of the question “Do you like butter?” holding the flower under your chin to see the answer, there’s a lot of meaning behind this beautiful flower.
Behind The Name: What Does ‘Buttercup’ Mean?
Buttercups are part of the Ranunculus plant family, Ranunculaceae. The name Ranunculus is derived from Latin, translating to ‘little frog’, which references to their water-loving growth habit. Where you’ll find water, you’ll find plants under this genus.
The common name, buttercup, some believe comes from a folktale of how people thought that cows ate the flower, which made butter turn a golden yellow similar to the bloom. In fact, the plant is poisonous to livestock.
It is worth noting that cows will normally eat around buttercups, and buttercups that are found in hay are fine for the bows to ingest, as long as the flowers are dried.
The almost luminous yellow buttercup petals are very reflective (as you’ll know if you’ve ever played the above game), and this helps attract pollinators from afar.
The Symbolism behind the Buttercup
Buttercup flowers represent charm, optimism, and simplicity. If you look at the petite flowers themselves in their natural habitat, you’ll notice how they brighten up any area they grow in.
Buttercup flowers represent joy, friendship, innocence and youth, thanks to the childhood games they are often at the center of.
Because they are quite petite, these flowers symbolize humility and the value of the little things. They may not be as showy or as dramatic as irises, roses, or delphiniums, but they still hold their own.
While these are true of all buttercups, you can get them in different colors, and this does change the symbolism.
Red Buttercup Symbolism
Red buttercups, also known as Persian buttercups, symbolize desire, romance, and how one person shapes every thought or desire that you have.
Green Buttercup Meaning
Green buttercups represent prosperity, wealth, renewed vitality or energy, and looking towards the future instead of the past.
Yellow Buttercup Symbolism
Yellow buttercups represent happiness, the wealth of the connection you have with others, platonic affection, and a new chapter in your life.
What is the Cultural Significance Behind the Buttercup Flower?
It may surprise you to know that there are several myths which surround this lovely and unassuming flower, though they are not as well-known as the butter game.
The Buttercup and the Coyote
There is a Native American story surrounding the buttercup, and the coyote. The coyote removed his eyes, and created a game where he would throw them in the air and catch them.
Unfortunately, the Eagle caught them instead, and the coyote had to make do with fashioning eyes from the buttercup flower. Remember how reflective these gorgeous flowers are?
The Selfish Man
A man crossed a meadow, carrying a bag of gold coins, which was all the wealth he owned. Known to him or not, the meadow was full of fairies, who asked him to share his wealth with them.
He refused. To punish the man, the fairies pretended to accept this, while splitting the bag, and turning the coins into buttercups, so he wouldn’t hear them hit the ground.
What do Buttercup Flower Tattoos Mean?
Buttercup flowers aren’t the most popular subject for a flower tattoo, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t meaningful in their own right.
Buttercup tattoos represent a positive outlook, a happy and life-changing event or experience, someone who ‘enchants’ you, and the joy you can find in nature and in the simplest things.
The Best Time to Give Someone Buttercup Flowers
Buttercup flowers are the perfect gift when you want to brighten someone’s day, or wish them well. More often than not, they are a spontaneous gift, or as part of much larger arrangements.
Giving someone buttercups represents how you wish someone only joy in the near future, which is perfect for when they are starting out in a new phase of their life.
They are also perfect for someone who prefers wildflowers (see also Top 21 Types of Wildflowers You Can Grow) over ornamental flowers.