Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna subsp. verna) is a cheerful sight in spring with its shiny, buttercup yellow flowers and a good source of early pollen and nectar for pollinating insects. Although it is not a competitive weed, its persistent root tubers can make it unwelcome in some gardens where control options are worth considering.
Botanical name Ficaria verna subsp. verna (syn 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. It provides an early source of pollen and nectar for emerging bumblebees, small flies and small beetles. Learn more about helping bees in your garden.
The young leaves of lesser celandine are high in vitamin C and used to treat scurvy in Germany and used as salad leaves. They are well loved by writers and poets including D. H. Lawrence and Wordsworth and often cultivated in borders but can become a nuisance in lawns and bulb beds where they spread by small
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.
What can make 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 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
It is not neccessary to control lesser celandine in all situations - it can provide colour at a time when the ground tends to look bare and offers valuable nectar and pollen for early emerging pollinators such as queen bumblebees. It also does not tend to swamp or outcompete other plants. Where it is considered a nuisance, control can be difficult.
The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner.
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). Dig out tubers and young plants before flowering but this may need to be repeated over several seasons
- 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
- 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. Vitax LawnClear 2 or 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. Roundup Ultra or SBM Job done General Purpose Weedkiller). If plants can't be moved, a ready-to-use spray (e.g Roundup Fast Action Ready-to-Use, SBM Job done General Purpose Weedkiller Ready-to-Use or Doff Advanced Weedkiller Ready-to-Use) 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
- SBM Job done Path Weedkiller (ready-to-use only) and Weedol Pathclear products containing glyphosate/diflufenican and 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. 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
Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.
Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining different weedkillers available for gardeners; see sections 1b, 4 and 5)
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.