January 2012

Ranunculus calandrinioides

Text and photographs by Bob Mitchell
     Ranunculus calandrinioides is one of the most attractive of buttercups and one of the earliest to flower.  Ranunculus, with about 600 species, accounts for almost a third of the species in family Ranunculaceae.  They are found around the world, mainly in temperate climes.
    Ranunculus calandrinioides is endemic to the Atlas mountains of Morocco where it grows in Cedar forest clearings or fringes and in the open hillsides.  It was described by Daniel Oliver (1830-1916) in Hooker’s Icones Plantarum 19: t. 1828 (1889).  The type specimen is at Kew and was collected near Taourirt in the Rif mountain in north-east Morocco but the collector’s name in illegible and there is no date.  Further collections indicate an extended distribution to the south-west in the Atlas mountains where it grows from 1500 m to 2500 m. It is illustrated in Curtis’ Botanical Magazine n.s. 38 (1948).

     Ranunculus calandrinioides is a dwarf perennial with fleshy roots and  is a very variable plant.  Its grey-green leaves are lanceolate but with either a plain wavy edge or with deep serrations.  Some of the leaves have hairs on the stem and leaf margins , while those plants without pubescence were called variety glaberrimus Maire.  The 1 to 3 flowers, up to 5 cm across, appear in the winter or early spring and are bowl-shaped.  The petals can be pure white, tinged pink or deep pink; they can be quite narrow to fully rounded, their edge frilly or smooth.   They all seem to be accepted under the all embracing Ranunculus calandrinioides.

     The leaves of the herbarium specimens of wild collected plants I have seen all have a degree of serrated edges.  The photograph by Richard Cormack was taken on a trek through the Atlas mountains and shows this serration.  While those in general cultivation have a wavy edge.

     Ranunculus calandrinioides was first introduced to cultivation in British garden in 1929 and received an Award of Merit in 1939 for Sir Frederick Stern. It was granted the Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

This hardy perennial dies down in June so water should be withheld during the summer and early autumn.  It is best suited to pot or alpine house culture where watering can be controlled.  Its leaves appear in December followed quickly by the several-headed flower stems in January onward.  Since it grows in stony soils, perfect drainage is essential.  It can be grown outside but our wintery weather can cause damage to the flowers. 


Ranunculus calandrinioides can be increased by seed which can be tricky sometimes.  Frost treatment appears to aid germination, for this can be delayed until the spring.  However there are accounts that the plant has self sown in an alpine house border.  Division of the plant in the summer is a possibility but must be done with care.  Best to purchase a plant from a reputable grower.  It will save a few years wait from seed.


Our plant is in the Alpine House which has no heating, so the plants do get a modicum of frost.  Its grows in the East border. Grid H7 (click for location map).