The Nature Bible


Thoughts · Daily Post

Build me up Buttercup



Our meadows are now peppered with an ever-growing sea of knee-tickling, sun-caught buttercups spreading pollen gold dust...



Everyone knows of the folk legend, passed down through many generations in the form of the buttercup game to find out if a friend or loved one likes butter. The bright colour comes from yellow pigments in the surface of the petals whose smooth surface and layers of air beneath, make them highly lustrous so they reflect the light and shine upon the skin when held beneath the chin. And the real reason the flowers seem to glow is nothing to do with butter but about advertising the plants to insect pollinators from a great distance. They even form a cup shape with their petals on cooler days, in order to track the sun and warm up the flowers to make them even more inviting to insects.


The association with butter is rather ironic as the flowers are poisonous when ingested by both humans and cattle. There are hundreds of species of Buttercups in the UK that are part of are a large genus of flowering plants called Ranunculus, meaning 'little frog' - (as they are often found growing in areas suitable for frogs - meadows, pastures, on the edges of wet woodlands and damp, grassy places) but common names, before the 18th century include Lantern Leaves, Tangle Grass, Goldweed, Kingcup and Soldier Buttons. Creeping Buttercup survives mowing and is therefore common on lawns but why not take part in No Mow May to give other species a chance?


Buttercups are frequently featured in medieval church carvings and were one of the flowers widely accepted as symbolic of the Virgin Mary and her purity at that time, along with Columbine, White-flowering Hawthorn, Lilies and Roses.


I'm always reminded of the poem 'Buttercup Days' by AA Milne, from my childhood:-


Buttercup Days (from 'Now We Are Six')


Where is Anne?

Head above the buttercups,

Walking by the stream,

Down among the buttercups.

Where is Anne?

Walking with her man,

Lost in a dream,

Lost among the buttercups.

What has she got in that little brown head?

Wonderful thoughts which can never be said.

What has she got in that firm little fist of hers?

Somebody's thumb, and it feels like Christopher's.

Where is Anne?

Close to her man.

Brown head, gold head,

In and out the buttercups.