Definitions

lesser-celandine

Lesser celandine

Lesser celandine, (Ranunculus ficaria, syn. Ficaria grandiflora Robert Ficaria verna Huds.) is a low-growing, hairless perennial plant, with fleshy dark green, heart-shaped leaves. The plant is found throughout Europe and west Asia and is now introduced in North America. It prefers bare, damp ground and in the UK it is often a persistent garden weed.The flowers are yellow, turning white as they age.

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.

Life cycle

According to Gilbert White, a diarist writing around 1800 in the Hampshire village of Selborne, the plants came out on February 21st, but it is more commonly reported to flower from March until May, and is sometimes called the "spring messenger" as a consequence.

In non-native locations

In many parts of the northern United States and Canada, lesser celandine is cited as an invasive species.

Medicinal uses

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.

References in literature

The poet William Wordsworth was very fond of the flower and it inspired him to write three poems including the following from his ode to the celandine:

I have seen thee, high and low,
Thirty years or more, and yet
T'was a face I did not know.

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.

Celandines are also mentioned in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion. The character Glorfindel was the lord of the house of the golden flower: a celandine.

A reference appears in Tony Hendra's The Messiah of Morris Avenue: "He was kneeling on a carpet of violets and celandines." (p. 144)

See also

References

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