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Gardening & More: This sweet-looking little flower is nothing but trouble for local area

PRETTY INVASIVE — This may look like a sweet little flower, but don’t be fooled. It’s an invasive plant called lesser celandine. If you see it anywhere in your yard, dig it out right away before it becomes a problem. Photo courtesy of Mike Fabrizio.
This is lesser celandine. If you see it in your lawn or garden, dig it up now!

I want to spare you the frustration I keep hearing from gardeners who have this in their yard and can’t get rid of it. Not only that; when it gets into our woods and forests, it chokes out the native plants. If you see even a little patch of it in your yard, dig it up right away.

Lesser celandine is actually a pretty plant with sweet yellow flowers that look like buttercups. It has heart-shaped leaves and grows close to the ground.

The plant’s Latin name is Ranunculus ficaria, said Carol Ann Harlos, coordinator of Master Gardeners in Erie County. Ranunculus is Latin for “little frog,” and it got that name because it emerges anywhere from March through the month of May, when one often hears frogs and toads. She added a bit of folklore: Lesser celandine was also called “pilewort” because it was used to treat piles, properly known as hemorrhoids.

Lesser celandine is an ephemeral ground cover, which means that after the plant blooms, the entire plant seems to disappear, she explained. The tubers or underground stems of lesser celandine wait until late in the winter when they gradually wake, send up new leaves and begin the cycle all over again.

This plant also reproduces by achenes, which are tiny, dry, one-seeded fruits that are spread by birds.

If you have lesser celandine now, next year, you will see more of these plants, Harlos said. Their rosettes will be everywhere – in your gardens, your neighbors’ gardens, perennial gardens and your grass.

That is a problem because that plant, which originated in Europe and Asia, competes with native species in North America.

How does it do this? Lesser celandine completes its life cycle early and thus shades out and steals nutrients from native species, in the spring. It does this by getting there first, before bloodroot, trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches and other ephemerals emerge.

This is a problem not just for your garden or lawn, but for natural spaces, Harlos pointed out. Birds spread the seeds into forests and other uncultivated places. Lesser celandine will crowd out the native plants.

“Please dig up lesser celandine and get every last piece,” she said. “I know this plant is attractive, but good gardeners must realize that no garden lives in isolation from the rest of the world.”

Here are some tips on dealing with lesser celandine:

– Dig it up and get every last bit of it.

– Go out after a rain; it will be easier to dig out the plants.

– Lesser celandine has tiny tubers, which are easy to miss. If you have a large area that is affected, Harlos suggests setting golf tees or other markers around the area, so you know where to check next year.

– While you can use Roundup to kill lesser celandine, it takes time for it to be effective because it must get to the roots, Harlos said. Any other plant that accidentally gets sprayed will be damaged or killed, as well.

Some gardeners have tried all of this, but find that their yards are still overwhelmed by lesser celandine. They want to know what else they can try. “I know no one wants to hear it, but the only solutions are digging and Roundup,” Harlos said.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.


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