Buttercup - Ranunculus asiaticus

Buttercup - Ranunculus asiaticus

Joyful Buttercups

The ranunculus genus has about four hundred herbaceous, perennial and annual species; buttercups are widespread in nature in Europe, Asia and Africa. In the Italian meadows and woods, buttercups are present in numerous spontaneous species, with simple or semi-double flowers, generally yellow or white. In the gardens, hybrids of a species of Asian origin are grown, as the name implies, the ranunculus asiaticus. This species is perennial, rhizomatous, and produces large jagged leaves and numerous very double, rounded flowers with a dark or golden center in early spring. For a greater color effect generally i buttercups they are planted in the garden very close, so that they give the impression of producing flowers almost in bunches, even if in reality the floral stems, fleshy and erect, usually bear only one flower.


In this article we will talk specifically about buttercups tuberoses, very common both as garden plants and as cut flowers: they are part of a very large genus that also includes many herbaceous plants. The word ranunculus comes from the Greek and literally means "frog": it refers to the natural environments in which these plants thrive, i.e. swampy, marshy areas or in any case where both atmospheric humidity and that at ground level are very high. Spontaneous in Italy are the ficara, the aquatilis and the divaricatus. Here, however, we will speak at length only of the asiaticus, widely used in gardens and object of great interest by the horticultural industry. In fact, in Italy (especially on the Riviera dei Fiori) it is one of the most studied plants. The breeders went in search of ever more double and large flower heads and extravagant or very pure colors, all to satisfy the desires of an increasingly demanding public.

Family and genderRanuncolaceae, gen. Ranunculus, sp. Orientalis or asiaticus
Type of plantTuberose, up to 35 cm high
ExposureFull sun, partial shade
RusticityModerately rustic
GroundLoose, rich, well drained
ColorsAll (even green), except blue
IrrigationQuite frequent, without stagnation
FloweringFrom spring to summer
FertilizationEvery 20 days from spring to summer

Grow buttercups

The rhizomes of the buttercups are of medium or small size, they are planted in a rich and deep, well soft and drained soil, which allows the thin roots to develop without hitches; in fact these flowers fear compact and clayey soil, where they generally tend to bloom in a scarce and discontinuous way. The rhizomes are planted in autumn in areas with a mild climate, and at the end of winter in areas with severe winters; the rhizomes of ranunculus fear frost, and the permanence in the frozen ground very often causes them to rot; they have a cylindrical shape, and are sprouted gathered in number of 5-9, attached in a group, in the shape of an umbrella, which is generally called a paw; the ranunculus legs are buried by taking them flat and placing them at a depth of about 5-9 cm, depending on the size of the rhizome.

These are herbaceous plants with a prevalent spring and summer development, therefore during the autumn and winter months they generally do not require care; as soon as we notice the ranunculus buds it is advisable to water the plants, and periodically check that the soil does not dry out completely, or that it remains dry for prolonged periods of time.

After flowering, the plants form large tufts of leaves, which should be watered occasionally, but generally only in case of scarcity of rain. When the leaves begin to dry it is possible to cut them at the base and eventually dig up the rhizomes, to divide them or to store them for the winter.

When they are planted, the soil is enriched with organic fertilizer, or with slow release granular fertilizer; if we live in an area where buttercups overwinter in the open ground, we can provide granular fertilizer at the end of winter; this fertilization will be sufficient for the entire vegetative period of the plants.

In autumn we can divide the rhizomes, trying to keep well developed roots for each portion practiced; after the division we can plant the rhizomes again, or we can place them in a fabric bag, with some sawdust, and keep them in a dark and cool place until the end of winter.

Features buttercup

It is a herbaceous from 25 to 35 cm high. The root is tuberous, dark and spider-shaped. The leaves are bright green. The basal ones appear oval, while the others are deeply engraved (as in the whole genus). The cultivars on the market produce flowers of various shapes, with a diameter that can range from 2 to 5 cm. The colors present are pink, red, lilac, white, yellow, orange, brown and even green. There are specimens with mottles and spots, or with contrasting edges.

SHUTTERSSingle or double flowers
FRENCHDouble or semi-double flowers
TURBAN (TURBAN)Very large double flowers
WITH PEONY FLOWERSVery double and large flowers

Buttercup history

The ranunculus asiaticus in all probability it reached Europe at the time of the Crusades (therefore from the 12th to the 13th century). In particular, it is known that it was Louis IX, returning from the Holy Land, who introduced them to France: at the time, however, they were not particularly appreciated, perhaps due to a lack of knowledge of the cultivation method.

It had to wait until the mid-1600s for someone to begin to appreciate and spread them. In particular, the Ottoman emperor Muhammad IV was a great fan of floriculture. He gave birth to a vast collection of the most beautiful varieties (which he had researched throughout Anatolia, in Persia, on the island of Rhodes and Crete) which, clandestinely, also arrived in Europe, in the South of France.

Buttercup variety

First of all, it must be said that for home cultivation it is rather difficult to find specific cultivars. Usually (even at specialized retailers) you have to be satisfied with bags containing a mixture of colors or at most a single color, but without specifying the name.

However, it should be known that from the 1800s to today, hybridizers have selected various forms of the flower and this classification is still used today.

Planting buttercup

Perhaps this is the most delicate phase and it is important to work scrupulously to obtain beautiful blooms.

What is the most suitable period?

It can be done in both autumn and spring. In the Center-South and in the coastal areas, the first option is certainly preferable. The plants, in fact, the longer they remain in the ground before flowering, the more they will give large corollas.

If we want to proceed in this period also in the North, it is good to cover the area with an abundant mulch based on leaves or straw or resort to the use of special sheets. Clearly in this case, attention must also be paid to the exposure: the ideal is to place them in the South, perhaps where there is a wall capable of accumulating heat during the day.

If after these interventions in spring you want to enjoy the flowering for longer, you can always decide to insert still other tubers, even in a scaled way.

How to proceed?

It is advisable to rehydrate the legs in depth: in this way they will root earlier and the percentage of taking root will be significantly higher.

We start the night before by putting them in a basin with plenty of warm water. In the morning we will see them visibly larger and swollen.

At that point we will dig holes twice as deep as their height. We will put them in and cover them. The planting distance is equal to twice the width.

To obtain a beautiful overall effect, it is advisable to create rather dense flower beds. A too high distance between one specimen and another (especially in the absence of other essences) will inevitably give a somewhat sad air to our green space.


These are fairly rustic tuberoses, but to give their best they have to live in rather mild climates. Throughout Northern Italy and in the Apennine areas it is good to protect the area throughout the winter.

Soil buttercups

They want a light, deeply worked substrate, possibly rich in humus. They do not even disdain a clayey soil or with large quantities of silicon, as long as it is well drained and not at all or very little compact.

It is therefore important to work the area in time and possibly incorporate some sand and a little mature manure (without exaggerating, since they are rather sensitive to nitrogen access).

In pots, they can easily be grown in containers. However, we keep in mind that the legs will surely exhaust their resources within a year and therefore will be totally replaced.

It is important to create a thick drainage layer based on gravel or expanded clay on the bottom. For the rest, we can safely use a compote for flowering plants, possibly mixed with a little sand and a little manure

Watering buttercups

Buttercups do not like prolonged drought and this could have a decisive influence on their flowering. We intervene quite frequently both at the plant and during the vegetative period, especially in the absence of rainfall.

Let's just avoid having a permanently humid soil. This, in fact, could favor the appearance of radical asphyxia and rot, which are then impossible to eradicate. We must pay particular attention if our soil is compact and poorly draining.

Even more careful you need to be with potted specimens. In this case it is preferable to wait one more day than to exaggerate with the interventions. In any case, let's make sure the substrate is hydrated by inserting a finger deeply and evaluating the situation.

Fertilizing buttercups

In this case, fertilization is very important both to support abundant flowering and to help the plant store nutrients for the coming year.

For best results it is good, from when we see the stems sprout, to administer a dose of liquid fertilizer for flowering plants every 20 days. The doses suggested on the packages are often too powerful. To avoid damage we can dilute them twice as indicated on the label.

The best products are those poor in nitrogen and rich in potassium.

From the moment the flower fades, it will be good to administer a fertilizer with a greater amount of phosphorus. This favors the accumulation at the root level, guaranteeing better results in the year to come and the possible appearance of small legs suitable for reproduction.

Other treatments

When the flowers wither it is good to remove the flower head to prevent the seeds from ripening. This in fact takes away a lot of energy from the specimen, exhausting any possible accumulation at the underground level.

After this operation we have to wait patiently for the stem to dry. At this point we will be able to take the legs (very gently, possibly passing the soil through a sieve so as not to damage them and not to lose new born).

They will be placed in a shaded and airy area. In this way they will lose excessive moisture and can be stored until the time of replanting.

However, it should be noted that the recovered roots do not always continue to give good results year after year. Especially some cultivars tend to run out completely within two or three springs.

In this regard, it should be noted that it is also possible to avoid extracting them, leaving them undisturbed in the ground. In autumn we will simply insert other legs in order to make the area fuller in case of widespread die-off.

Buttercup - Ranunculus asiaticus: Buttercup multiplication

Buttercups multiply by division of the legs or by seed. The first method is absolutely preferable in the case of cultivars, since the second absolutely does not guarantee the maintenance of the peculiar characteristics.

The sowing of the ranncolo is done in the open air from the end of summer to late autumn. A mixture of peat and sand is used, covering the seed very lightly. Germination occurs with temperatures around 18 degrees. When winter arrives, they must be moved to a cold greenhouse, making sure that it is bright.

Division proceeds at the moment of taking the mother plants from the ground. The rootlets must be kept in pots for at least a year and fed abundantly with phosphorus-based fertilizers. They are generally ready from the second to the third year.

In the horticultural sector, propagation occurs in vitro. This helps maintain characteristics, produce large volumes and avoid the proliferation of pathologies.

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