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   Because of the shape of Ranunculus flowers, bees do not pollinate them very well, but the bees do leave an abundance of pollen on the glossy petals.  Dew and rain slide off the slick, shiny surface carrying the pollen to the stigmas below to fertilize them. How very interesting the ways of plants are!  

    The various species of Ranunculus that grow in the Four Corners area are a bit difficult to tell apart; look first at the leaf shape and the height of the plant.  Flower size, color, and shape are very similar and are difficult to use in distinguishing among species.

     "Ranunculaceae" is an ancient name, probably derived from the Latin "rana", meaning "frog" or "tadpole"; frogs and some Ranunculaceae prefer the same moist habitat.  But the name might refer to some long forgotten perceived relationship in size, shape, and smell between flower and frog. Linnaeus named this genus in 1753.

Ranunculus alismifolius

Ranunculus alismifolius variety montanus (Plantain-leaf Buttercup)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Cross Mountain Tail, July 13, 2005 and Upper Calico Trail, July 3, 2013.

Ranunculus alismifolius is an abundant Buttercup, especially in moist subalpine meadows.  Leaves are long, broadest in the center and tapered at both ends and the plant is often broader than tall.  Like so many other Buttercup flowers, Ranunculus alismifolius flowers are small and only attract oohs and ahhs when they are found in large colonies (click to see) or when you look at their flowers with a hand lens.  


Ranunculus alismifolius variety montanus (Plantain-leaf Buttercup)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Echo Basin Loop Road, June 8, 2004.

Charles Geyer named this species in 1849.  "Alismifolius" means "with Plantain-like leaves".

 Ranunculus glaberrimus
Ranunculus glaberrimus Ranunculus glaberrimus
Ranunculus glaberrimus
Ranunculus glaberrimus variety ellipticus (Sagebrush Buttercup)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Dolores River Canyon Overlook, April 30, 2008 and Meadows of Ormston Point Road, May 7, 2010.

Compare the plants in the photos at left and below with the photos above of R. alismifolius. The two species can easily fool you; they certainly fooled me.  A careful look will show at least four major differences: 

R. glaberrimus leaf petioles are much shorter and although the basal leaves are quite similar in the two species, the cauline (stem) leaves of R. glaberrimus are often deeply cut in three parts (see the last photograph on this page).

R. glaberrimus flowers typically have five petals (but read about Scotter and Martin's research below); R. alismifolius flowers often have eight-to-ten (although they may have as few as three).

R. glaberrimus sepals are usually tinged with reds; R. alismifolius sepals are typically green or yellow (but may be tinged with lavender).

R. glaberrimus seed heads are larger and contain 50-80 achenes (seeds); R. alismifolius heads contain 15-45 achenes.

Young plants of the two species are easiest to misidentify.  Mature plants differ considerably in size: R. alismifolius is often twice as tall as R. glaberrimus.

Click to see more Ranunculus alismifolius and Ranunculus glaberrimus.

 Ranunculus glaberrimus
Ranunculus glaberrimus
Ranunculus glaberrimus variety ellipticus (Sagebrush Buttercup)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Montane, subalpine. Meadows, wetlands. Spring, summer.
Dolores River Canyon Overlook, April 30, 2008.
Meadows of Ormston Point Road, May 8, 2009.

Scotter and Martin's 2016 published research indicates that although Ranunculus glaberrimus usually has five petals petals, the number "varies widely as does their size and shape". "The earliest flowering plants typically have 5 petals but the number of plants with more than 5 petals appears to increase as the season and temperature advance." Scotter and Martin also observe that it is common to find Ranunculus glaberrimus flowers lacking petals, yet this condition is not commented on or explained in any floras or research. Scotter and Martin feel that this common apetalous state merits further research.

Ranunculus glaberrimus was named by Hooker in 1829 from a specimen collected in 1826 along the Columbia River by David Douglas (of Douglas Fir fame). The Latin, "glaber", means smooth and the "imus" ending is a superlative, indicating "very smooth".

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 Ranunculus alismifolius

Range map for Ranunculus glaberrimus