Fig Buttercup

Pretty yellow flowers? Check. Great for the landscape? No check! The fig buttercup, also known as the lesser celandine or pilewort, is a non-native plant from Europe and Northern Africa that has the potential to become a very bad invasive species in South Carolina. This spring ephemeral grows and blooms early in the spring, which helps it get established in natural areas and gives it a competitive advantage over native plants. It can grow in incredibly thick patches, take over entire areas, and crowd out native spring ephemerals (Fig. 1). The leaves (Fig. 2) and flowers (Fig. 3) are toxic if eaten, and may cause vomiting, nausea, or dizziness. The roots consist of thick tubers and bulblets, each of which can produce a new plant (Fig. 4). These underground structures can help the plant withstand periods of drought or poor growing conditions and they are also spread when soil is disturbed.

Like many invasive plants, fig buttercup was initially promoted as a landscape plant, but it escaped cultivation. Some varieties are still sold in many states, but it is illegal to move or sell any variety of Ficaria verna in South Carolina.

Fig buttercup thrives in moist areas, such as along streams, rivers, and ponds, and in low spots in natural areas.

Because of the short growing season and propensity to grow in moist/wet areas, control can be tricky. Patches can be removed by hand, but care must be made to ensure the tubers and bulblets are not left in the ground or accidentally spread elsewhere. The treatment window for herbicides is short, as plants are only actively growing from about February to April. Herbicides approved for use in wet areas (with an active ingredient of glyphosate, see Table 1 below) can be used. Generally, at least two years will be required to eradicate a fig buttercup population.

If you think you have found fig buttercup, please contact Clemson Department of Plant Industry at invasives@clemson.edu or by calling 864-646-2140.

Table 1. Herbicides for control of fig buttercup in moist or wet areas.

Herbicides for Shoreline or Wet Areas Brand & Product Name
Glyphosate Dow AquaPro Herbicide
Durvet AquaVet Landscape & Aquatic Herbicide
Dow Rodeo Herbicide
Farmworks Aquatic Herbicide
Gordon’s PondMaster Surface & Shoreline Herbicide
Gordon’s GlyphoMate 41 Weed & Grass Killer Plus Aquatic Herbicide
Hi-Yield KillZall Aquatic Herbicide
Nufarm AquaNeat Aquatic Herbicide
PondOasis Shoreline Plant Control
Roundup Custom for Aquatic & Terrestrial Use
SePro Total Pond Emerge Cattail & Shoreline Weed Control
Shore-Klear Aquatic Herbicide
Shore-Klear Plus Aquatic Herbicide
Follow all label directions for mixing and use.

Figure 1. Fig buttercup forms dense monocultures where no other plants can grow.

Figure 1. Fig buttercup forms dense monocultures where no other plants can grow.
Janie K. Marlow, 2019 photo taken at Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville

Figure 2. Fig buttercup leaves are spade or heart shaped and have very deep veination – somewhat resembling reptile skin.

Figure 2. Fig buttercup leaves are spade or heart shaped and have very deep veination – somewhat resembling reptile skin.
Janie K. Marlow, 2019 photo taken at Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville

Figure 3. Fig buttercup flowers are bright yellow, with three sepals underneath the petals.

Figure 3. Fig buttercup flowers are bright yellow, with three sepals underneath the petals.
Janie K. Marlow, 2019 photo taken at Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville

Figure 4. Root tubers or bulblets of the fig buttercup are thick, and each can produce a new plant.

Figure 4. Root tubers or bulblets of the fig buttercup are thick, and each can produce a new plant.
Janie K. Marlow, 2019 photo taken at Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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