The buttercup family
Find out about the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family, which includes many favourite garden plants.
The Ranunculacae, or buttercup, family is one of the best-loved plant families and includes many of our popular garden plants, including clematis, delphinium and aquilegia.
The family takes its name from the latin, rana, which means 'little frog', because a lot of the plants thrive in damp places. They're often found growing in cooler parts of the world and most of the plants are herbaceous.
Flowers in the Ranunculaceae family often have cupped flowers, with distinctive centres which are clusters of stamens. The flowers are often found in clusters or spikes and the flowers usually five petals or fewer. Some species don’t have proper petals or flowers; the brightly coloured calyx is the ‘flower’.
Here are some popular members of the Ranunculaceae family.
Buttercups are often considered weeds in the garden, but many are attractive garden plants, including Ranunculus acris 'Flore Pleno' (bachelor's buttons, pictured). It produces bright yellow, double flowers on tall, wiry stems in June and July and is not invasive. Grow in moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.
Clematis are perfect for covering pergolas, walls and fences and come in a multitude of colours. Choose your varieties carefully and you could enjoy the blooms of clematis all year round – discover clematis for every season. They all enjoy the same conditions – grow in sun or part shade, with a cool root run. Find out how to plant a clematis.
Hellebores bring welcome colour to the garden in late winter and early spring, when little else is in bloom. The large, cup-shaped flowers come in shades of white, green, pink and purple. They grow best in shade or semi-shade, in moist, fertile soil. Watch Monty Don's advice on planting hellebores.
Aquilegias, or columbines, are cottage garden plants that bear nodding, often two-tone flowers in a range of colours. The flowers have five petal-like sepals surrounding the true petals at the centre. Flowering in early summer, they fill the seasonal gap between the last of the spring bulbs and the first of the summer flowers. They are easy to grow and self-seed readily around the garden.
Another cottage garden favourite, delphiniums have tall, majestic spires of mostly blue, white or pink flowers. Each flower has colourful sepals that form a nectar-rich spur behind the small petals, which form an eye at the centre. They are loved by bees and are superb for cutting. Grow in moist but well-drained soil in full sun, and protect from slugs. Cut back after flowering and you may be rewarded by a second flush of flowers.
There are many different types of anemone to choose from, all with pretty, buttercup-like flowers. Anemone obtusiloba (main image, above) and Anemone blanda (wood anemone) flower in spring. Japanese anemones, pictured, are stalwarts of the late summer and autumn garden and can be grown in sun or shade.
Hepaticas bring welcome colour to the garden in early spring. Their delicate flowers come in shades of pink, blue or white, with up to 10 oval petals and a ruff of bracts underneath. Hepaticas do best in a partially shady, sheltered spot. Mulch with leaf mould in autumn and feed with a high-potash feed in late winter.
More ranunculaceae to try
- Nigella – blue and white hardy annuals that are easy to grow from seed. They are good cottage garden plants and make excellent cut flowers
- Cimifuga – long spires of tiny white flowers on tall stems. A good perennial for the back of the border
- Thalictrum– airy clouds of lilac or white flowers. Good for the middle or back of the border, in moist soil in part shade
- Aconitum – also known as monkshood or aconite. It's a tall herbaceous perennial, similar to the delphinium, that flowers in midsummer. Grow in cool, moist soil
- Caltha palustris or marsh marigold – a striking plant with buttercup like flowers that are very attractive to pollinators. Ideal for growing around the edge of a pond or in a bog garden
- Pulsatilla or pasque flower – a beautiful spring flower. The silky buds open to light purple, cup-shaped flowers that mature into star shape. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun and leave undisturbed
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