Both Ranunculus and Buttercup can be confusing names, as they both refer to one family of flowering plants, and individual plants themselves.
The genus these refer to is the Ranunculaceae family, which encompasses a lot of different flowers, including Delphiniums, Clematis, and Aconitum (Wolf’s Bane).
Luckily, there’s also subgroups, but for this article, we’re looking at Persian buttercups (ranunculus asiaticus), which is one of the most popular types of buttercups. It’s also the plant people usually mean when they say ranunculus.
Ranunculus flowers are perennial tubers which have stacks of paper-thin petals, usually in a circular shape. These can be grown from seed, or you can buy the tubers or established plants.
They’re popular for bouquets as they’re a striking and long-lasting cut flower, and look as though someone has crafted them from paper. They’re also a popular choice to add color to your garden, whether that’s in your borders, containers, or dotted in between vegetables in plots.
Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about ranunculuses, from recognizing these blooms, popular varieties, when to plant them, and how to get the best out of these stunning flowers.
All About Ranunculus
The Origin Behind the Name
The name buttercup refers to the entire Ranunculus genus, which is part of the Ranunculaceae family. Ranunculus refers to around 600 different species, and other common names for these are spearworts, buttercups, and crowsfoots.
Ranunculus is a combination of the Latin words rana and unculus, translating to “little frogs”, referring to how most of these plants are found near water, like frogs.
The name buttercup is believed to have originated from the belief that the yellow flowers found naturally in meadows give butter its vivid color, but these plants are poisonous to livestock. It’s also inadvisable for humans or pets to eat these plants!
The Benefits of Ranunculus Flowers
While these plants are poisonous, they’re also used in traditional medicine to treat rheumatism, fever, and to make skin red by increasing blood circulation to relieve pain.
Ranunculus in Gardens and Landscapes
While you’ll find wild buttercups pretty much everywhere, the one which is planted on purpose and regularly cultivated is ranunculus asiaticus, the Persian buttercup.
They come in a rainbow of hues, some of which are even bi-colored. As they’re growing in popularity, more varieties are becoming available, some of which were bred for the commercial cut flower market, which means they’re bigger and last longer than some varieties.
Persian buttercups are a cool-season flowering plant, which means they grow best in temperatures under 70 degrees. They don’t grow well in really hot temperatures.
If that sounds like your garden, they may not be for you, or you can pop them into containers where you can control the conditions a bit more than you can in the ground.
Popular Flowers to Plant Ranunculus With
To create a spectacle of color in your garden, here’s a list of just some of the ornamental flowers that help ranunculus to truly stand out:
- African Daisies (see also Osteospermum Types And Care)
- Peonies (Paeonia)
- Snapdragons (Antirrhinum)
- Larkspur (Delphiniums)
- Primroses (Primula)
- Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule)
How to Recognize a Persian Buttercup
The flowers of the Persian buttercup can be single-form or doubles, or even frilled, growing anywhere from 3-6 inches wide.
The colors vary with the variety, but they’re nearly all available in every color you can think of, except for blue.
The flowers appear in spring and mid-summer, before the temperatures get too hot for them.
The stems grow up to 2 feet in height, and the spread about the same once the plant is mature.
The leaves of a Persian buttercup are fine, and look similar to parsley. They’re small, and grow alternately along the stem, growing up to 12 inches tall.
Recommended Persian Buttercup Cultivars
Somewhere between pink and coral, this type of ranunculus produces a real sunset shade to brighten up anywhere you choose to plant it.
Like a lot of popular ranunculus varieties, this one comes from Italy.
Ranunculus ‘Picotee Café’
This ranunculus was originally created in Israel for the cut flower market, so the blooms tend to be larger and last longer than other varieties.
If you want a truly unusual ranunculus, this variety is for you. The double flowers come in gorgeous shades of gold, bronze, coffee, chocolate, and orange, and are often bi-colored.
The petals have frilled edges, and some blooms reach up to 12.5cm wide. If you live somewhere where the winters are cold, it’s a good idea to give them some protection against frost.
Ranunculus ‘Purple Picotee’
This type of ranunculus is perfect if you want a bi-color flower that won’t upset your color scheme, if you’re particular about it.
It boasts white, stacked double-petals which have purple edges, and adds interest to pots, borders, and flower arrangements.
It will grow to a maximum height of 45cm, and spreads to 30cm wide, once the plant has reached maturity.
Ranunculus ‘Elegance’ Series
The ‘Elegance’ type of ranunculus has been especially bred to resist disease, pests, and to produce more flowers per bulb.
The colors are especially vivid, and you can find them in nearly every shade. They also do better in warmer climates than other varieties.
Some types of the Elegance series do take longer to fully open, but they’re beautiful at every stage, adding interest throughout the season.
They grow up to around 30cm high, so they’re slightly smaller than other varieties.
How to Grow Ranunculus
Where To Grow Ranunculus
With ranunculus, there’s a tricky balance that you need to strike. They like full sun, at least six hours a day, but to truly get the best out of them, they need somewhere a bit cooler, as they can’t stand hot temperatures very well.
They don’t like damp conditions, so you’ll need to put them in well-draining soil, and while they’ll live in partial shade, you’ll get fewer flowers.
You can plant them in borders, or containers. Containers retain less moisture than the ground, so if the soil in your garden doesn’t drain well, you’re best growing them in pots.
The plants reproduce both through the tubers and the seeds, and you can propagate them by dividing tubers.
How to Plant Ranunculus
Ranunculus tubers need to be planted with the ‘claw end’ facing the earth, around 1-2 inches deep into the ground. You can space them out if you like, but keep it less than 12 inches apart, as they do better closer together.
If you’re planting ranunculus into a container, the pot needs to be big enough to fit at least two large tubers, and it’s vital that the container has drainage holes, otherwise the plants will rot.
They need to be planted around 2 inches below the surface of the soil, and water them well to get them started.
Pests and Diseases Associated with Ranunculus
One of the most notorious pests that damage ranunculus plants is the aphid. These tiny green insects feed on the stem’s sap, and you can recognize when a ranunculus is plagued by these pests when the leaves discolor and start to wilt.
One disease ranunculus plants do suffer from is powdery mildew, which causes powdery spots to appear on older leaves.
If left unchecked, it will cover the stems and the leaves, which will make them brown. The best thing to do to prevent this mildew from forming is to make sure the plant gets plenty of air flow.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Do Buttercups Symbolize?
Buttercups symbolize friendship (see also Buttercup Flower Meaning), simplicity, and humility, and don’t reference a specific birth month.
The ranunculus flowers stand for attractiveness, charm, and are often used in place of roses as they have a similar appearance.
Are Ranunculus Flowers Poisonous?
One of the defense mechanisms ranunculus plants have is to produce a toxin called protoanemonin when the plant is damaged. This discourages animals from eating it. Livestock only usually eat buttercups or plants from this family when they think they don’t have another option.
Signs of ranunculus poisoning include the blistering of the mucous membrane, excessive drooling, and diarrhea.
Does Deadheading Ranunculus Increase Flowers?
Yes. Like many ornamental plants, deadheading spent flowers increases the amount of new flowers the plant produces, as it then has more energy to create new flowers.
It also extends the window of time that the plant flowers for.
Deadhead your ranunculus flowers in spring and summer, and take off the occasional perfect bloom to enjoy indoors. This ensures that the plant will flower continuously through the season.
Can You Grow Ranunculus In Containers?
Yes, provided that the containers or pots you use are placed in a very sunny spot to get the most flowers out of your ranunculus.
The containers will need regular watering, especially when you’ve enjoyed hot weather, as some ranunculuses don’t do well with higher temperatures.
Make sure that whatever container you use has great drainage, otherwise the ranunculus plants will rot, as they don’t have a good tolerance for wet soil.
Ranunculus plants which live in containers usually develop larger root systems than in the ground. While some plants like to be crowded together, a ranunculus is not one of them, so don’t overfill your containers and then expect them to come back as vigorous next year.
Adding ranunculus flowers to your garden will instantly brighten up any space you plant them in. They also have unusual looks, and are really easy to care for.
As long as you plant them in a sunny spot, where it doesn’t get too hot, and deadhead the spent flowers, they’ll provide your garden with a wealth of color and interest year after year.
More and more varieties of ranunculus plants are being created every year, as they’re enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
They’re good choices for cut flowers as they last a lot longer than some flowers once cut from the plant.
You can enjoy their displays in pots or in borders, get creative with planting them among other ornament blooms to truly show them off.
Ranunculus plants have little to no maintenance needs, despite their delicate appearance and variety of color options, making them a great choice for any garden.