Lesser Celandine in March
Submitted by Faye Mahaffey
OSUE Brown County Master Gardener Volunteer
I love taking a walk down to our cabin this time of the year. The daffodils are getting ready to bloom and joining in is a low-growing herbaceous perennial dreaded by some and adored by others – “fig buttercup” or Lesser celandine. We have a friend in the lawn care business that always informs us that he can take care of that invasive weed for us, but we have never made that call.
The plants consist of a basal rosette of tender, succulent, dark green, shiny, stalked kidney-to heart-shaped leaves. Flowers are symmetrical, bright buttery yellow with a slightly darker center, have 8 (typical) to 12 petals, and are borne singly on delicate stalks that rise above the leaves. When in bloom, large infestations of lesser celandine appear as a green carpet with yellow dots, spread across the forest floor. This highly invasive plant is native to Eurasia and it was originally sold in the United States as an ornamental. It prefers moist, forested floodplains; however, in recent years lesser celandine has escaped cultivation and is becoming widespread in parks, yards, and forests growing under a range of environmental conditions including drier upland areas.
Control of lesser celandine is challenged both by the plants unusual life cycle and its prolific reproductive potential. The weed is spread by seed and by movement of thickened underground stems or tubers in contaminated soil or by wildlife. For example, deer may transport pieces of tubers between their hooves or under their dew claws to new locations. In southwest Ohio, the plant spends most of its life underground from June through January. Typically, leaves begin to appear in February and colonies thicken through March and April. Blooms appear in late March and early April. By May, the above ground portion of the plant begins to fade.
Lesser celandine has been labeled as invasive because it is displacing many native plant species, especially those with the similar spring-flowering life cycle. Because lesser celandine emerges well in advance of the native species, it has a developmental advantage which allows it to establish and overtake areas rapidly.
Small colonies of lesser celandine can be removed by digging up the tubers; however, extreme care should be taken not to leave behind any of the tubers. Chemical control recommendations in the literature tend to focus on multiple applications of systemic glyphosate-based herbicides in February (to have the greatest impact to the lesser celandine and the least impact to desirable native wildflower species).
I am surprised at what is popping up in the flower beds and what is taking its time. I planted a new Pussywillow and was discouraged to find that the deer have been pruning it severely. It’s time to cut down the ornamental grasses and pull back the leaves covering some of my hyacinths.
Here we go! Ready or not! The “to do” list is growing!