If you have children at home you are more than likely to have come across the expression ’Buttercups and Daisies’ when Fifi the Flowertot exclaims in surprise. I can’t help but think of this expression when I come across buttercups in the meadows although I have as yet not found them near daisies except for this one below that I found in our back yard. Hopefully I can find a more impressive combination at some point.
Buttercups usually flower during April and May and belong to the ranunculus family. The name ranunculus is Latin for ‘little frog’ due to the tendency of the flowers to grow in moist environments. Plants in the ranunculus family contain ranunculin which when broken down by crushing releases protoanemonin which can cause dermatitis in humans. It is therefore best to avoid excessive handling of these plants. It is rumoured that in the past the poor also found a novel use for crushed buttercup leaves in that beggars used to blister their skin purposefully with buttercup juice to garner the sympathy of passersby.
From my own childhood I recall a story of a field of buttercups although the particular story eludes me and I somehow always pictured them golden-yellow and about the size of tulips. Now that I have seen them up close their smaller size does not diminish their appeal as they stand out brightly against the dark green grass backdrop. In the story Buttercup Gold written by Ellen Robena Field, the fairies change gold dropped by a greedy man in a field into something that will give joy to rich and poor – golden buttercups.
As far as flower meanings go buttercups cover quite a range and can symbolize neatness, humility, childishness, ingratitude and even unfaithful behaviour. So yes, buttercups are pretty and toxic, especially to animals. Years ago it was mistakenly thought that the rich yellow of the buttercup made better butter from cows feeding in buttercup-rich meadows but clearly cows should not be eating them.
All buttercup flowers have shiny, waxy textured, bright yellow petals. The symptoms of the flower’s poisoning of animals include excessive salivation, bloody diarrhoea, colic, and blistering of mucous membranes and of the gastrointestinal tract. However, the toxins get degraded when the plants are dried, so if hay contains dried buttercups it is quite safe.
Buttercups are happy places for insects though, because each flower has a secret reservoir called a nectariferous spot or a pit where it keeps its nectar.
A popular children’s game involves placing a buttercup flower on the chin, and it is said that the chin turns yellow if the person likes butter. The chin actually turns yellow because the special structure of the waxy epidermal layer of the petal reflects yellow light with remarkable intensity. So when next you see a buttercup you can test its reflective ability – just don’t handle it too much.
Buttercups and Daisies a poem by Eliza Cook
I never see a young hand hold
The starry bunch of white and gold,
But something warm and fresh will start
About the region of my heart; –
My smile expires into a sigh;
I feel a struggling in my eye,
‘Twixt humid drop and sparkling ray,
Till rolling tears have won their way;
For, soul and brain will travel back,
Through memory’s chequer’d mazes,
To days, when I but trod life’s track
For buttercups and daisies.
There seems a bright and fairy spell
About there very names to dwell;
And though old Time has mark’d my brow
With care and thought, I love them now.
Smile, if you will, but some heartstrings
Are closest link’d to simplest things;
And these wild flowers will hold mine fast,
Till love, and life, and all be past;
And then the only wish I have
Is, that the one who raises
The turf sod o’er me, plant my grave
With buttercups and daisies.