by Charles Cresson for aFewSteps
With warmer days and the emergence of the first crocus, you may find a charming little yellow flower in your lawn and plantings. This bright yellow buttercup-like flower grows in bunches low to the ground, with shiny green round leaves about the size of quarters. Called the lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), it comes from Europe, and is sometimes mistaken for our larger and well-behaved native marsh-marigold.
Blooming among your daffodils, this little beauty is in fact an insidious beast that invades our yards by every means at its disposal, spreading by both roots and seeds. Each plant grows from a cluster of rice-sized tubers just beneath the soil surface. These tubers remain when the above-ground leaves die off in early May, not to reappear again until late winter, more forceful than ever. Even when dormant, each tuber can form a new plant if separated, as so often happens when you dig in your garden or give other plants to friends.
In just a few years the lesser celandine will multiply into dense colonies. Smaller spring flowers in its path risk being smothered. In natural areas, it is crowding out native wildflowers.
What can you do? Dig it up, roots and all (be sure to get every little tuber), and dispose of it in the trash, not in your compost where it will multiply and be spread around your garden. Dig it while the clumps are small. You can also smother it by covering the soil with layers of newspaper or other opaque material, for several springs in succession. Herbicides are not very effective.
Some people will welcome this aggressive beauty without concern, but others may wish to control it in their gardens before it is too late. There is no going back.