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3047.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 10:49 am Reply with quote

The success of the 'Barnacles' thread inspired me to start this one, though it could of course be under 'Botany' too.

3049.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 10:55 am Reply with quote

The taxonomic name the common buttercup is Ranunculus acris which is Latin for 'bitter little frog'.

Apparently, the 'little frog' bit is because buttercups prefer damp ground.


Sophie J
3053.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 11:48 am Reply with quote

I think that a lot of ingredients reportedly used by witches - dragon's blood, lizard's tail etc - relate to specific plants. Ranunculus bulbosus, the bulbous buttercup, was known as frog's foot.

According to my source, while all plants have a Latin name these days, years ago they were only known by the names used locally. They could therefore be known as totally different things in different parts of the country.

Adder's tongue was the dogtooth violet, 'erythronium americanum'.
Jew's ear was a fungus growing on elder and elm trees, 'Peziza auricula'
Wolf's foot was bugle weed, 'Lycopus virginicus'.


Frederick The Monk
3055.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 12:06 pm Reply with quote

The family Ranunculaceae is regarded as primitive and is one of the very few families known to feature rain pollination. The European species, Ranunculus repens, is reported to remain open on rainy days; the water running down the glossy petals dislodges the pollen and carries it to the base of the corolla, where it then rises through the carpels to deposit pollen on the stigma.

3067.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 1:05 pm Reply with quote

Does anybody else have childhood memories of holding buttercups under the chins of family members 'to see if you like butter' - ie to see if there was a golden reflection up under the chin?

3068.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 1:30 pm Reply with quote

It used to be thought that the yellow colour of butter came from the buttercups the cow had been eating. Actually, of course, it comes from artificial colourant E-7742.

Jenny's question raises the issue of natural fluorescence, a subject on which I am unable to cast any light.

3087.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 7:21 pm Reply with quote

I have a vague memory about woolly mammoths tickling me (the memory, not the mammoths, that is, although having genuine memories about being tickled by a woolly mammoth would be much more QI than any fact about buttercups and mammoths, I suppose).

3088.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 7:54 pm Reply with quote

Garrick I vaguely remembered something about that too - is it this story, do you think?

3089.  Wed Dec 10, 2003 8:01 pm Reply with quote

Aye, yon's the bugger. Good catch.

3110.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 4:38 am Reply with quote

Jenny, that's a really interesting link and is worth posting in full, I think:

In the early part of this century the famous Beresovka mammoth carcass was discovered in Siberia. Nearly intact, the animal was found buried in silty gravel sitting in the upright position. The mammoth had a broken foreleg, evidently caused by a fall from a nearby cliff 10,000 years ago. The remains of its stomach were intact and there were grasses and buttercups lodged between its teeth. The flesh was still edible, but reportedly not tasty.

No one has ever satisfactorily explained how the Beresovka mammoth and other animals found frozen in the subarctic could have been frozen before being consumed by predators of the time. Some have proposed a sudden change in climate, but this hardly seems a likely explanation. The scientist who uncovered the Beresovka mammoth conjectured that the animal fell into a snow-filled ravine that protected the body until it was perhaps covered by gravel during a summer flood.

(The Geophysical Institute, Universirty of Alaska, Fairbanks)

Last edited by JumpingJack on Thu Dec 11, 2003 5:45 am; edited 1 time in total

3111.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 4:46 am Reply with quote

Fossilized remains of the common buttercup Ranunculus acris show that it has been flowering on earth since before the last ice age during the Oligocene period (approximately 18 to 26 million years ago).


3113.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 5:19 am Reply with quote

Buttercups have been familiar since time immemorial and are frequently featured in mediaeval church carvings.

However, the first recorded use of the name buttercup for the flower is not till 1777. Until then, a "buttercup" was merely 'a cup for holding butter', viz:

My buttercuppis of silver.
Recorded in the will of E.GRANTHAM at Somerset House (1512)

The name 'buttercup' is a conflation from names for the flower in previous use butterfloure with kingcup or goldcup.

s:OED s:FLB s: FLW

3114.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 5:33 am Reply with quote

Buttercups are not to be confused with butterbores (a kind of augur comparable to a cheese-taster), butterburs (Petasites vulgaris a plant with large leaves supposedly once used for wrapping butter in), butter-bumps (an old name for bitterns), or butter-hamlets (small brightly-coloured hermaphroditic fish).

A butter-box is a box for holding butter in, hence a contemptuous name for a Dutchman also butter-bag, butter-mouth from the supposed Dutch habit of eating enormous amounts of butter.


3116.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 5:43 am Reply with quote

Before the word buttercup came into general use in the 18th century, the flowers had a variety of common and less common local names, including crow-peckles, goldweed and soldier-buttons.


John Gerard in his Herball or General Historie of Plants (1597) refers to the buttercup as the King knob.


Sophie J
3119.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 6:36 am Reply with quote

One of the oldest members of the Ranunculaceae family is the Marsh-marigold which is thought to have been around since before the last ice age. Most commonly seen in damp areas of land, it's local names include Kingcup, Mollyblob, Pollyblob, Waterbubble and Gollins.

s: Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey


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