Opinions are divided when it comes to the somewhat invasive perennial buttercup. In areas where a natural look is desirable, where other plants can't or won't grow, or as a carefree ground cover, creeping buttercup presents a pretty and simple answer to the problem. However, in areas where livestock frequent, or where a gardener is attempting to establish a structured garden, the weedy buttercup may not be welcome.
Known for glossy, bright or light yellow petals that form a little cup shape, the buttercup's reproductive parts appear on a cone or rounded mound in the center. Some species have five rounded or pointed petals while others have up to 10. Species also vary in size, with heights up to 36 inches and a spread just as wide. Leaves are dark green and often lobed or divided.
Livestock owners have particular concerns with buttercups, as they contain the toxin protoanemonin. Depending on the amount the animal consumes and its particular susceptibility to the toxin, results can be fatal. Care should be taken with children and pets, although the weed is safe to touch.
Ranunculus repens, the creeping buttercup, spreads by roots that appear from nodes or growth points at the end of stems. They spread easily by seeds, creating new generations each season. Preferring a little moisture, buttercups often appear on roadsides near ditches, meadows and near water sources. However, some species have adapted to drier areas.
Aside from creeping buttercup, other perennial species include R. occidentalis, the Western field buttercup, identifiable by long, three-lobed leaves extending from the base. R. acris, or Tall buttercup, reaches heights of 3 feet with 1-inch wide blooms. Birdfoot buttercup, R. orthorhynchus, grows to 24 inches and has distinctive achenes or fruit that appear straight and skinny verses hooked like most others.
The most common concern with the perennial buttercup is how to control its spread. Since it typically grows low or horizontally rather than upright, it can be difficult to root out in a field into which it has invaded. Herbicides tend to be the best defense against this determined weed, but consult a local garden center expert or university extension office for recommendations of safe and approved products for your specific application, as well as safety tips.