This family branched off early in the evolution of flowering plants and some species show ‘primitive’ features such as variable number of petals and sepals and numerous stamens and free carpels (ovaries and styles). Evolution within the family then led to enormous diversity in flower form. There is a progression from the simple ‘open’ flowers of the buttercup, clematis and hellebore, which attract many pollinators, to the more complex bilateral flowers  with spurs of the Larkspur, Aquilegia, Delphinium and Monkshood which make access to pollen and nectar more difficult and require more specialised pollinators. Basic Flower Parts 3 to 15 Sepals, 0 to 23 petals, Many Stamens,

The flowers of Clematis show many ‘primitive’ features. They have large numbers of stamens (anthers+filaments) and many carpels (ovaries+styles). Sepals are often attractive and have replaced petals and hence are called tepals (e.g.clematis, hellebore, anemone) but sometimes sepals and petals are  showy as in the aquilegia, where the sepals are red and the petals yellow. In this family some species have 4 tepals but others have 8 or more such as the Clematis shown here. There is no definite number

The Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) has 2000 species in 50 genera. It has two main subfamilies – Ranunculoideae which includes Buttercup, Hellebore, Trollius, Anemone, Nigella, Pulsatilla, Clematis, Aconitum, Larkspur and Delphinium and Thalictroideae which includes Thalictrum (Meadow Rue) and Aquilegia. The family is named after the genus Ranunculus (buttercups). The Latin word Rana for frog refers to the fact that buttercups are found near marshy places where frogs abound.

Bulbous Buttercup Ranunculus bulbosus is a native wild flower. It flowers from March to May. Each flower has  5 sepals, that are bent backwards, 5 yellow petals and, at the centre, numerous stamens and carpels. It is an open flower accessible to a wide range of pollinators such as flies and small bees. The plant grows from an underground bulb, hence its name ‘bulbous’.


Lenten Rose Helleborus orientalis is a popular garden plant, native to Greece and Turkey. It flowers in February/March.Hellebore flowers have 5 white/spotted or coloured sepals not petals. Inside the cup formed by the sepals are 10 green tube-shaped nectaries, which some botanists believe to be modified petals.

Larkspur Consolida ajacisa wild flower introduced from the Mediterranean region but now naturalised and found in meadows.It has 5 blue sepals and 2 white petals. One of the sepals has a long spur.

Red Columbine Aquilegia formosa is native to western North America, from Alaska to Baja California, and eastward to Montana and Wyoming.It is a short-lived perennial grown in gardens in Britain.


Garden Anemone Anemone coronaria is native to the Mediterranean region. The central carpels are surrounded by deep purple anthers and purple sepals.

Hybrid Delphiniums (such as the Delphinium elatum ‘Faust’, shown here,) have been bred (in many colours) to have multiple numbers of sepals and petals. 

Pasque Flower Pulsatilla vulgaris  has 6 sepals, no petals, numerous yellow anthers and many pink/purple styles with stigmas that are receptive before the anthers release pollen. 

Love-in-a-Mist Nigella damascena. The flower has green thread-like bracts that give the appearance of a mist. In this species the sepals are large and light blue and the petals have been reduced to an insignificant ring of dark blue nectaries.  The many anthers are clustered round the 5 green styles.