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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).