Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
Wet weather this spring has favoured one of our common flowers, the ‘creeping buttercup’ and in damp grasslands, marshes, and wet meadows this little flower is a blaze of bright yellow.
I suspect it is enough to strike fear into the heart of gardeners across the region since this is the ‘weedy’ buttercup with long, straggly runners and the ability to thoroughly take over unkempt borders and the rest.
Damp lawns are especially susceptible. Nevertheless, take off your gardening hat for a moment and this is a very pretty little flower, at least for a few weeks.
There are two common buttercups (and several less common ones such as marsh marigold and of course the familiar lesser celandine), and the other is the ‘meadow buttercup’.
This is a much less invasive or troublesome plant and stands quite erect rather than creeping and carries its bright golden-yellow flowers a foot or two above the ground.
Also in flower at this time of year, the story of meadow buttercup is very different from the creeping variety. This is a plant of meadows and other grasslands that are beginning to recover from intensive management and fertiliser inputs.
This is why you may see it along roadways where verges have been left to grow in spring rather than being hacked to within an inch or so of their lives. Meadow buttercup and some of the finer-leaved grasses tell a story of recovery and are soon followed by showy flowers like ox-eye daisy, black knapweed, and in damp zones, cuckoo flower. Get the management right, and importantly for public acceptability, keep things reasonably tidy too, and in a year or so of regular maintenance things start to improve.
If the conditions are suitable for example, you can get plants such as spotted orchids and be orchid appearing alongside swarms of ox-eye daisies as seen on motorways verges and the like.
The humble meadow buttercup is the first early sign of this recovery.
The name ‘buttercup’ comes from the association with cow-grazed pastures rich in their yellow flowers and generally avoided by grazing animals.