Ranunculus ficaria exists in both diploid (2n=16) and tetraploid (2n=32) forms which are very similar in appearance. However, the tetraploid type prefer more shady locations and frequently develops bulbils at the base of the stalk. These two variants are sometimes referred to as distinct sub-species,R. ficaria ficaria and R. ficaria bulbifer respectively.
In Latin, 'celandine' can be translated as 'swallow', or 'when the swallows come home'. The flower is present when the swallows return in the spring.
The plant used to be known as Pilewort, as it was used to treat haemorrhoids. Supposedly the knobbly tubers of the plant resemble piles, and according to the Doctrine of signatures this resemblance suggests that pilewort could be used to cure piles. The German vernacular Scharbockskraut (Scurvywort) derives from the use of the early leaves, which are high in vitamin C, to prevent scurvy.
Upon Wordsworth's death it was proposed that a celandine be carved on his memorial plaque inside the church of Saint Oswald at Grasmere, but unfortunately the Greater celandine Chelidonium majus was mistakenly used.
C. S. Lewis mentions celandines in a key passage of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Aslan comes to Narnia and the whole wood passes "in a few hours or so from January to May". The children notice "wonderful things happening. Coming suddenly round a corner into a glade of silver birch trees Edmund saw the ground covered in all directions with little yellow flowers - celandines.