Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is a cheerful sight in spring with its shiny, buttercup yellow flowers. However, its persistent root tubers make it an unwelcome weed in most gardens and control is usually necessary.

Lesser celandine in flower

Quick facts

Common name Lesser celandine
Botanical name Ranunculus ficaria
Areas affected Beds, borders, areas planted with bulbs and lawns
Main causes Weed with persistent root tubers
Timing Seen spring; treat in spring

What is celandine?

Lesser celandine is a perennial member of the buttercup family. A British native, it is widespread in woods, hedgerows and on the banks of streams, but can also be found in gardens.


This plant usually appears above ground in late February and usually dies back in late April. Lesser celandine is a low-growing plant, rarely reaching more than 5cm (2in) in height.

It has glossy, heart-shaped leaves and bears shiny, bright-yellow flowers in March or April.

The problem

What makes lesser celandine a weed in gardens?

  • Lesser celandine grows from root tubers and spreads mainly by tubercles (bulbils) that form in the leaf axils and rapidly colonise disturbed soil. Occasionally, lesser celandine produces viable seed too
  • Because of the short growing period, the plant may not be a problem in gardens – it can even provide colour at a time when the ground tends to look bare – but it can be a real menace in some situations
  • Control is difficult due to the short growing season and the persistence of the root tubers


Non-chemical controls

There are a number of cultural control methods to try;

  • Attempting to dig out the plants often assists their spread as, unless great care is taken, this operation will distribute the tubercles (small tubers)
  • Celandine can be troublesome among spring-flowering bulbs or plants such as primroses. Where bulb borders are heavily infested, it is best to lift the bulbs and desirable plants when dormant and plant them elsewhere for a season while the border is thoroughly cleared of the celandine
  • Mulching the surface of the soil with a 10cm (4in) deep layer of organic material may smother lesser celandine, but this method is not always feasible and is unlikely to fully eradicate the weed

Chemical controls

Lawn weedkillers

  • Celandine in lawns is difficult to eradicate, as it is resistant to most lawn herbicides. An application of a selective lawn weedkiller based on MCPA (e.g. Doff Lawn Spot Weeder, Westland Resolva Lawn Weedkiller, Bayer Lawn Weedkiller Ready-to-Use 3, Vitax LawnClear 2 or Scotts Weedol Lawn Weedkiller) may considerably check growth, but will almost certainly need a repeat treatment the following spring. The first application should be given early in the season (as soon as the leaves are fully developed), followed by a second application three or four weeks later


  • Remove all cultivated plants first and then use a glyphosate spray (e.g. Scotts Roundup, Scotts Tumbleweed, Bayer Glyphosate Kills Weeds & Roots or Doff Knockdown Weedkiller). If plants can't be moved, a ready-to-use spray (e.g Scotts Fast Action Roundup Ready-to-Use, Bayer Garden Rootkill Ready-to-Use, Doff Glyphosate Weedkiller Ready-to-Use) or gel formulation (Scotts Roundup Gel) can be used with care around garden plants. When treating, branches or shoots of garden plants can be held back, using canes, or by covering or screening while spraying, but make sure the weed foliage has dried before releasing branches or removing the covering

Residual control

  • Bayer Ground Clear Weedkiller containing glyphosate*/flufenacet/metosulam comes in a soluble sachet. It can be applied once a season to natural surfaces where no plants are to be grown, and can also be applied under and around established woody trees and shrubs, including roses. This product kills off existing small green growth and prevents or checks developing growth. Check manufacturer’s recommendations before use to avoid damaging sensitive plants

*A note on glyphosate May 2016: After reviewing glyphosate, the European Parliament has given the go ahead to relicense it but proposes disallowing certain uses such as public open space and restricting it to professional use only. The final resolution will be decided by national authorities this summer which may mean the withdrawal of glyphosate-based weedkillers for home gardeners in the UK. Check the RHS website for further updates.


Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining different weedkillers available for gardeners; see sections 1b, 4 and 5)


Chemicals: using a sprayer
Chemicals: using safely and effectively
Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillers

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