Ranunculus flammula (Lesser Spearwort)
|Also known as:||Creeping Spearwort, Creeping Buttercup|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; sandy or mussy shorelines and ephemeral ponds|
|Bloom season:||July - September|
|Plant height:||2 to 4 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Solitary yellow flower on a slender, green to reddish, 2 to 3-inch stalk ascending from the leafy nodes of the creeping stem, typically only one flowering stalk per node. Flowers are about 1/3 inch across with 4 to 11 (usually 5) egg shaped petals with numerous yellow stamens around the green styles in the center. Behind the flower are 4 or 5 spreading sepals, about half the petal length, hairless or short hairy.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are simple, up to 1¼ inches long and less than ½ inch wide, linear, lance, spatula or spear shaped, narrowing into a slender stalk; sometimes the blade is barely wider than the stalk. Edges are smooth or finely serrated, surfaces smooth or with fine hairs (pubescent). Leaves are mostly in upright or spreading clusters at the rooting nodes with a few smaller leaves along the stem.
Not only is Lesser Spearwort a diminutive plant that can easily be overlooked, but it also appears European settlement of Minnesota has not set well with this species. Its North American distribution would indicate a preference for cooler latitudes and elevations where it is often associated with lake shorelines. The few populations we have observed in NE counties appear to be associated with cool groundwater seeps. Historically absent from much of Minnesota's central lakes areas, the few southern populations in the metro appear to have disappeared by the late 1800s, and no specimens have been collected south of Pine county since the 1930s. Though it is not listed or tracked in any way by the Minnesota DNR, a warming climate along with continued development of northern shoreline habitats is likely to continue to push the southern boundary of this species further and further north in the coming decades. 3 recognized varieties exist, though the two in Minnesota, var. ovalis and var. reptans, scarcely differ. Some references treat var. reptans as its own species, Ranunculus reptans.
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- a tangled mat of Lesser Spearwort
- an 8-petaled flower
- Lesser Spearwort plant
- upper stem and stem leaves
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Lake County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin and Lake Counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?