Ranunculus abortivus L. is also known as the Little Leaf Buttercup, Small- Flowered Buttercup, and the Kidney Leaf Buttercup. The generic name, Ranunculus, is Latin for “little frog.” Rana is “frog,” the specific epithet, abortivus, is Latin for “abortive,” “imperfect,” or “missing” (Brandenburg & Tuftus, 2010). The plant is found in thirteen provinces of Canada and in all states except, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Utah (NatureServe, 2014). Ranunculus abortivus is listed as vulnerable in both Wyoming and the Yukon Territory in Canada (NatureServe, 2014). In the Labrador province of Canada, the herb is at risk and critically at risk in New Mexico (NatureServe, 2014).
Ranunculus abortivus is found in more polar climates of Alaska and the humid, subtropical climate of Florida, found growing in moist soils of woodlands, meadows, pastures, and fields (NatureServe, 2014; Matthews, Schweger & Hughes, 1990: 16; Kapoor & Löve, 1970: 575; Fassett, 1942: 520).
Ranunculus abortivus is an herb that is <70 cm tall. Stems from plants located in the northern most part of its distribution are covered with long soft hairs, and the farther south in the United States (any state below Colorado) the stems become hairless and smooth (Fassett, 1942: 520). The basal leaves are rounded, or kidney shaped, and nearly 2-6 cm long. Flowers have five yellow petals that are 1 cm in width (Brandenburg & Tuftus, 2010). Flowering occurs from mid-spring to late summer and the flowers are open for a week unless there is rain when they are only open during the daytime (U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey, 2015; GRIN, 2008). Ranunculus abortivus flowering period was recorded in the Washington, DC, area, over a thirty-year time span (Abu-Asab, Peterson, Shelter & Orli. 2001: 597). First flowering was advanced by 27 days (Abu-Asab, Peterson, Shelter & Orli. 2001: 607-608). The dry fruits are called achenes which are 0.25 cm in size (U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey, 2015) and are eaten by animals such as ducks, turkeys, voles, and chipmunks (Brandenburg & Tuftus, 2010).
Fasciation is an occurrence of flattening, splitting, and widening of the stem (Riddle, 1903: 346). When this malformation takes place, Ranunculus abortivus was found to have a reversed cylinder where the vascular tissue was located (Riddle, 1903: 347). Fasciation is a phenomenon that occurs due to an absence or abundance of nutrients (Riddle, 1903: 347).
Ranunculus abortivus is both toxic to humans and animal. During blooming season, Ranunculus abortivus is at peak toxicity. If a person were to come in contact with the plant, it would cause rashes, blisters, and skin irritation (Preacher & Westbrooks, 1986). If the rashes are exposed to sunlight it may cause pytophotodermatitis (Cronin, Ogden, Young & Laycock, 1978: 328-334). If ingested it can cause burning in the mouth and trachea, severe inflammation of the digestive system, dizziness, spasms, and paralysis. Although the plant is toxic, native tribes crushed and soaked the roots to later be placed on burns and cuts as a healing agent (Moerman, 1998). A study was done in the Yukon Territory Canada of an abandoned Mayo Indian Village located along a riverbank (Matthews, Schweger & Hughes, 1990: 16). In the detrital organic zone, seeds were recovered and dated to be approximately 29,600 +/- 300 years BP (before present) (Matthews, Schweger & Hughes, 1990: 19-20).
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Catalog Number: US 1735721
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): M. L. Fernald & B. H. Long
Year Collected: 1938
Locality: Three Creek, Drewryville., Southampton, Virginia, United States, North America
- Isotype: Fernald, M. L. 1938. Rhodora. 40: 418.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Flower-Visiting Insects of Small-Flowered Buttercup in Illinois
(Beetles feed on pollen or suck nectar, other insects suck nectar primarily; two observations are from Krombein et al. as indicated below, otherwise they are Robertson)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus pensylvanica sn; Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina dupla dupla sn; Anthophoridae (Nomadini): Nomada ovatus sn
Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochlorella aurata sn, Augochlorella striata sn, Halictus confusus sn, Lasioglossum cressonii sn, Lasioglossum imitatus sn cp fq, Lasioglossum pectoralis sn, Lasioglossum pilosus pilosus sn, Lasioglossum versatus sn, Lasioglossum zephyrus sn; Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena forbesii (Kr), Andrena hippotes (Kr), Andrena personata sn fq
Syrphidae: Cheilosia hoodiana sn, Paragus bicolor sn fq, Sphaerophoria contiqua sn fq, Toxomerus marginatus sn fq, Trichopsomyia apisaon sn; Tachinidae: Periscepsia laevigata sn, Siphona geniculata sn fq; Sarcophagidae: Helicobia rapax sn
Coccinellidae: Coccinella novemnotata sn, Coleomegilla maculata fp
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Ranunculus abortivus
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ranunculus abortivus
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 14
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Ranunculus abortivus is a species of flowering plant in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. Its common names include littleleaf buttercup, small-flower crowfoot, small-flowered buttercup, and kidneyleaf buttercup. It is native to North America, with a distribution that covers much of the northern, eastern and central part of the continent.
This species produces erect, hairless stems 10 to 60 centimeters tall. Each stem can bear up to 50 flowers. The flower has five petals up to 3.5 millimeters long.
The plant had a variety of uses among Native American groups. The Cherokee cooked and ate the leaves. They used it medicinally for abscesses and sore throat and as a sedative. The Iroquois used it for snakebite and poisoning, smallpox, and toothache.
- Ranunculus abortivus. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN).
- Ranunculus abortivus. Tropicos.org. Missouri Botanical Garden.
- Ranunculus abortivus. NatureServe. 2012.
- Ranunculus abortivus. USDA PLANTS.
- Ranunculus abortivus. Flora of North America.
- Ranunculus abortivus. Native American Ethnobotany. University of Michigan, Dearborn.
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Native American tribes have used Ranunculus abortivus medicinally for a variety of purposes (D. E. Moerman 1986).
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