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Weed of the Month: Lesser Celandine

Early spring is prime season for certain weeds. Without tree cover blocking the sun and with temperatures still too cool for many other plants to germinate, some weedy plants are able to get an advantage. Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) is a one such “spring ephemeral”—a term typically reserved for the native woodland plants that come and go in this narrow window of time, including many delicate beauties like trout lily and trillium.

Lesser celandine is actually an aggressive European plant, vilified by native plant enthusiasts for its tendency to emerge early and carpet the forest floor, edging out local flora. Still, since it shares the same strategies with its local counterparts, I think the name applies.

A member of the buttercup family, lesser celandine can delight the eye when it first emerges. Its bright yellow blooms against dark green, glossy leaves are quite stunning, especially following the drab browns and grays of winter. But don’t be tempted to choose this plant as an easy groundcover! It originally came to North America as a nursery plant, and some nurseries still sell it. However, lesser celandine is now considered an invasive weed in 25 states, including New York, and its steady spread worries ecologists and land managers alike.

Besides timing, lesser celandine has another important advantage over its native neighbors. It reproduces vegetatively, through underground tubers. So if you attempt to keep it under control by pulling it out, be sure to dig up those tubers or else you’ll see them again next year.

Before you dig, though, make sure you’re not attacking the similar-looking native plant marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris)! Both love damp areas and have yellow starburst flowers, but marsh-marigold grows in clumps, not dense mats, and its flowers have 5 to 6 petals, many less than the 8 to 12 petals of lesser celandine. Marsh-marigold actually makes an excellent, ecologically sustainable native alternative.

Saara Nafici is the executive director of Added Value/Red Hook Community Farm. She is also the former coordinator of the Garden Apprentice Program at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a longtime activist, feminist, bicyclist, naturalist, and youth educator. Follow her weedy plant adventures on Instagram.


  • Jane Brewer April 9, 2021

    Thank you for the info on this invasive weed (it torments me every spring as I hate to use nasty weed killers and dig for the tubers). Is there an environmentally safe weed killer to use?

  • vernah August 21, 2019

    This is an incredible idea….not knowing the weeds that grow in my garden is so frustrating! What if I pull a good little native plant out?!  What would really be helpful is several more photos of the early stages of the plant, helping me to make a decision before it blooms and then spreads.

  • Glenda BwenB April 28, 2018

    If in doubt, check the underside of the flower. The marsh marigold has yellow sepals but no petals. Lesser celandine has yellow petals and beneath the petals are 3 greenish sepals.

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