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Lesser Spearwort

Ranunculus flammula

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Bogs, ditches, fields, floodplains, marshes, meadows, ponds, riverbanks, riversides, swamps, water, waterside, wetland, woodland.

Yellow, 5 petals
The flowers of Lesser Spearwort are characterized by bright yellow petals. These flowers typically bloom in late spring to early summer, adding vibrant hues to the landscape. The blooms attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies and contribute to the plant's ecological role in wetland ecosystems.
The fruit of Lesser Spearwort consists of small, rounded achenes. These achenes develop from the fertilized flowers and contain seeds for reproduction. The fruit is a dry, one-seeded structure that is dispersed to new locations, contributing to the plant's reproductive cycle and colonization in suitable habitats.
A perennial, scrambling and hairless plant. Alternate, simple leaves. Its stems are often tinged red and its variable leaves are and linear or spear-shaped (hence its name 'spearwort'). The veins run parallel along the leaves from bottom to top. The leaves are unlike any other Buttercup species in that they are undivided, spear-shaped and barely toothed.
Lesser Spearwort does not have a distinctive or notable scent. The plant is primarily appreciated for its visual appeal, particularly the bright yellow flowers, rather than for any significant fragrance. The lack of a strong scent is common in many species within the Ranunculus genus.
Other Names:
Banewort, Creeping Buttercup, Greater Creeping Spearwort, Small Spearwort, Snake's Tongue.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Ranunculus flammula, also known as creeping buttercup, is a perennial herb in the Ranunculaceae family. It is native to Europe and Asia, and it is known for its small, yellow, cup-shaped flowers and glossy, three-lobed leaves that are borne on creeping stems. The plant is often found growing in damp, shady places such as woodlands, meadows, and along streams and can spread aggressively. The plant is considered a weed in some areas and should be controlled if it becomes invasive.


Lesser Spearwort, also known by its scientific name Ranunculus flammula, is a small, aquatic plant that belongs to the Ranunculaceae family. This plant is native to Europe, Asia, and North America, and can be found growing in wetlands, marshes, bogs, and along the edges of ponds and streams.

Appearance and Characteristics: Lesser Spearwort is a herbaceous perennial plant that grows to a height of around 20-60cm. It has thin, green stems that branch out into long, pointed leaves that are deeply divided into three lobes. The flowers of this plant are bright yellow, with five petals and a cluster of stamens in the center. These flowers bloom in the summer months, typically from June to August.

Uses and Benefits: Although Lesser Spearwort is primarily an ornamental plant, it has been used for medicinal purposes in the past. Its leaves and roots were used by Native American tribes to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, headaches, and sore throats. However, it should be noted that this plant can be toxic if ingested in large quantities, and should only be used under the guidance of a trained herbalist or medical professional.

Ecological Significance: Lesser Spearwort is an important plant in wetland ecosystems, as it provides habitat and food for a variety of insects, birds, and small mammals. Its bright yellow flowers also attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, which are essential for the reproduction of many plant species. However, it should be noted that this plant can become invasive in some areas, and can outcompete native plant species if left unchecked.

Lesser Spearwort is a beautiful and ecologically important plant that is worthy of our admiration and respect. While it should be used with caution for medicinal purposes, it is an important part of many wetland ecosystems and should be preserved and protected for generations to come.

Cultivation and Propagation: Lesser Spearwort is a relatively easy plant to grow, and is commonly used in water gardens, bog gardens, and other wetland habitats. It prefers full to partial sun and moist soil, and can be propagated by dividing the plant in the spring or by taking stem cuttings in the summer. It is important to note that this plant can spread rapidly and may require some management to prevent it from becoming invasive.

Threats and Conservation: While Lesser Spearwort is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction, it is important to note that wetland habitats are increasingly threatened by human activities such as development, agriculture, and climate change. In addition, invasive plant species can pose a significant threat to native plant communities, including Lesser Spearwort. As such, it is important to protect and restore wetland habitats, and to manage invasive plant species to ensure the continued survival of this important plant and the ecosystems it supports.

In folklore and Culture: In folklore and culture, the Lesser Spearwort has been associated with a number of beliefs and traditions. In some parts of Europe, it was believed that carrying a sprig of Lesser Spearwort could protect one from witchcraft and evil spirits. In Ireland, it was said that the plant was associated with the fairy realm and that it should not be picked or disturbed. In some Native American cultures, it was believed that the plant had the power to ward off evil spirits and to bring good luck.

The Lesser Spearwort is a beautiful and ecologically important plant that has a rich cultural history and a number of practical uses. While it should be used with caution for medicinal purposes, it is an important part of many wetland ecosystems and should be preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy.

Toxicity: It should be noted that Lesser Spearwort is toxic if ingested in large quantities. The plant contains a number of compounds, including protoanemonin, which can cause skin irritation and blistering, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. For this reason, it is important to handle the plant with care and to avoid ingesting any part of it.

Other Species of Ranunculus: There are over 400 species of plants in the Ranunculus genus, many of which are also commonly referred to as buttercups. Some of the most well-known species include the Common Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), the Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens), and the Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus). While these plants share many characteristics with Lesser Spearwort, they can often be distinguished by differences in their appearance, habitat, and growing requirements.

In addition to their ornamental and ecological value, some species of Ranunculus have also been used for medicinal purposes. For example, the roots of the Common Buttercup were used by Native American tribes to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, fevers, and skin conditions.

Conclusion: Lesser Spearwort is a beautiful and ecologically important plant that is well-suited to wetland habitats. While it should be used with caution for medicinal purposes, it is an important part of many wetland ecosystems and should be preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy. By understanding the importance of wetland ecosystems and the role that plants like Lesser Spearwort play in supporting them, we can work to ensure the continued survival of these valuable habitats and the plant and animal species that call them home.

25 Fabulous Facts About Lesser Spearwort

  1. Scientific Name: Lesser Spearwort is scientifically known as Ranunculus flammula.

  2. Habitat: This plant is commonly found in wetlands, marshes, and along the edges of ponds and streams.

  3. Appearance: It typically grows to a height of 30-60 cm and features bright yellow flowers.

  4. Blooming Period: The flowering season for Lesser Spearwort is usually from late spring to early summer.

  5. Leaves: The leaves are usually lance-shaped with toothed edges and are arranged in a basal rosette.

  6. Root System: Lesser Spearwort has a fibrous root system that helps anchor it in wet soil.

  7. Adaptability: It thrives in both full sun and partial shade conditions.

  8. Ecological Role: It plays a role in stabilizing wetland ecosystems and providing habitat for various insects and amphibians.

  9. Pollination: The flowers attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

  10. Seed Dispersal: Lesser Spearwort reproduces both by seed and vegetatively through its rhizomes.

  11. Edibility: Historically, some Native American tribes used parts of the plant for medicinal purposes, although it is not widely used today.

  12. Toxicity: Like many plants in the buttercup family, Lesser Spearwort contains compounds that can be toxic to livestock if ingested in large quantities.

  13. Historical Uses: It has been used in traditional medicine for ailments such as rheumatism and as a poultice for wounds.

  14. Growth Form: Lesser Spearwort often has a sprawling or creeping growth form, creating a dense ground cover in wet areas.

  15. Conservation Status: In some regions, it may be considered an indicator species for the health of wetland ecosystems.

  16. Hydrophilic Nature: Being a wetland species, Lesser Spearwort has adaptations to thrive in waterlogged conditions.

  17. Cultural Significance: In folklore, some cultures associate the plant with themes of rebirth and renewal due to its vibrant flowers.

  18. Invasive Potential: While not considered highly invasive, it can form dense stands in suitable habitats.

  19. Seasonal Changes: The plant undergoes changes in appearance during different seasons, with vibrant blooms in the flowering season.

  20. Genus Characteristics: Belonging to the Ranunculus genus, Lesser Spearwort shares characteristics with other buttercup family members.

  21. Seed Characteristics: The seeds are small and can be dispersed by water, aiding in the colonization of new wetland areas.

  22. Temperature Tolerance: Lesser Spearwort exhibits tolerance to a range of temperatures but is best adapted to cooler climates.

  23. Rooting Ability: Its rhizomatous roots allow for efficient vegetative propagation and the colonization of new areas.

  24. Environmental Indicator: The presence of Lesser Spearwort can indicate the health and quality of water in wetland ecosystems.

  25. Wildlife Habitat: The plant provides shelter for small aquatic organisms and serves as a food source for certain insects and waterfowl.


Lesser Spearwort filmed at Kentmere in Cumbria on the 1st June 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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