The common lesser celandine is one of my favourite wild flowers. I know I am not necessarily in the majority because it can become a weed. I remember, many years ago, answering a question from a very upset lady who had a carpet of celandines under her shrubs and wanted rid. I asked her what she would put there in their place and she said nothing – she just wanted them gone. I explained that, apart from being beautiful, they would disappear under the ground by June and the soil would then be bare but she was not going to accept that. The trouble is that you could spend a lot of time and effort trying to get rid of it and fail horribly. It really does pay to pick your battles carefully.
The reason it is so difficult to get rid of is that, apart from setting seeds, it propagates by little tubers which, if it is left alone, are no real trouble, but start digging it up and dropping broken bits all over the garden and you only make the problem worse.
So it may surprise some people that there are more than a dozen ‘ornamental’ forms and some people, such as me, love to collect them. I only have one in bloom so far and that is the beautiful ‘Randall’s White’ which has beautiful creamy flowers, a pleasant contrast to the usual yellow and which look perfect against the glossy foliage. Others have double flowers, in the usual gold or other colours, and one of the nicest has orange blooms. The most famous is ‘Brazen Hussy’ which was discovered by Christopher Lloyd. It is certainly dramatic with deep purple leaves and golden flowers but not my favourite, though a good foil for snowdrops and yellow crocus.
Those little tubers gave it one of its most curious common names – pilewort. In the ancient practice of the Doctrine of Signatures, where a plant’s medical use was proscribed by its appearance, the little tubers were thought to resemble piles.
And, just to confuse us, the botanical name has been changed from Raunculus ficaria (ficaria from ‘fig’, another description of the shape of the tubers) to Ficaria verna (verna meaning spring).
The lesser celandine is a widespread flower of seasonally damp soils but not boggy conditions, often under deciduous trees and shrubs where it grows abundantly before the trees leaf up and gets shaded and disappears underground till next spring.