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.

This family is considered to be ‘primitive’ in that it branched off early in the evolution of flowering plants. Evolution within the family then led to enormous diversity in flower form. There is a progression from the simple ‘open’ flowers of the buttercup and hellebore, which attract many pollinators, to the more complex bilateral flowers  with spurs of the Larkspur, Aquilegia, Delphinium and Monkshood flowers 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. Many free Carpels. Superior Ovary, Nectaries (reduced petals). Fruit are achenes or follicles.

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.