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Click for more Caltha leptosepala photographs.
Caltha leptosepala
Caltha leptosepalaSynonym: Psychrophila leptosepala.  (Marsh Marigold)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Subalpine. Wetlands, openings, meadows. Spring, summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 18, 2005.

If you want to see a plant put on a spectacular flower display, hike in late spring through snow-filled forests to tree line.  At the edge of the snow you will be amazed at myriads of white Marsh Marigolds.  You will even find them poking through the snow and in shallow snow caves.  A few weeks later they will be joined by yellow Alpine Avens and Buttercups, red Paintbrush, Bluebells, and magenta Parry’s Primrose.  Frequently mixed in, sometimes extensively, are Globe Flowers, masquerading as Marsh Marigolds. 

Almost all botanists place Caltha in Ranunculaceae; Weber places it in Helleboraceae.

Caltha leptosepala
Caltha leptosepalaSynonym: Psychrophila leptosepala.  (Marsh Marigold)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Subalpine. Wetlands, openings, meadows. Spring, summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 18, 2005.

Marsh Marigold flowers face you with a very sunny, wide-open spread of sepals. (There are no petals).

Caltha leptosepala

Caltha leptosepala

Caltha leptosepala

Caltha leptosepalaSynonym: Psychrophila leptosepala.  (Marsh Marigold)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Subalpine. Wetlands, openings, meadows. Spring, summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, June 23, 2008 and Pass Creek Trail, June 11, 2010.

Be sure to look at the back of the sepals for the unusual blue-purple tinge. 

Marsh Marigold leaves continue to grow after the flowers are gone and they triple the size of the 1 1/2 inch leaves shown here.

"Caltha" is Latin for "Marigold". (Some Calthas are yellow.) "Lepto" is Greek for "fine". "Psychro" "phila" means "cold" "lover". 

Marsh Marigolds are sometimes called "Elk's Lip" and that name always puzzled me.  Does the leaf look like an Elk's lip?  In several older botanical writings, including Aven Nelson's 1903, An Analytical Key to Some of the Common Flowering Plants, the common name for Marsh Marigold is not "Elk's Lip"; it is "Elk Slip". Is an Elk Slip another name for an Elk Wallow? Do Marsh Marigolds grow more profusely in Elk Wallows?

Caltha leptosepala

Caltha leptosepala

Caltha leptosepalaSynonym: Psychrophila leptosepala.  (Marsh Marigold)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Subalpine. Wetlands, openings, meadows. Spring, summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 18, 2005.

Linnaeus named the genus, "Caltha", in 1753 and Augustin de Candolle named this species in 1817 from a collection made by Archibald Menzies in Prince William Sound during 1792-1794 explorations.  In the late 1900s William Weber renamed the plant Psychrophila leptosepala, placing it in the genus first named by Berchtold and Presl in 1823.

Caltha leptosepala

Caltha leptosepala

Caltha leptosepalaSynonym: Psychrophila leptosepala.  (Marsh Marigold)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Subalpine. Wetlands, openings, meadows. Spring, summer.
Pass Creek Trail, July 26, 2009 and Sharkstooth Trail, July 18, 2005.

In the top photograph at left, one faded sepal hangs against the flower stem and bright yellow stamens ring the very young seed capsule which still shows stigmas at the very top.  In the next photograph, all sepals have dropped, stamens are withering, and the seed pod is swelling.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Caltha leptosepala