There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine, That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain; And, the first moment that the sun may shine, Bright as the sun himself, 'tis out again!
—William Wordsworth, “The Lesser Celandine”For the past week or so, the corridor woods along the river have been a’gleam with the bright cadmium yellow blooms of lesser celandine. A yellow so intense that shadowy sycamore glades seem to glow. The island across from the cottage appears carpeted, as if thickly spread with mustard. Some folks mistakenly identify lesser celandine as buttercup. While the two plants have similar vibrant yellow blossoms, buttercup tends to grow in more restricted clumps; lesser celandine spreads all over like a low ground cover. Lesser celandine was Wordsworth’s favorite wildflower. He wrote three poems extolling its virtues and requested its image be carved on his tombstone. Unfortunately, when it came time for the old bard to be laid to rest, the stonemason got it wrong, mistakenly depicting instead greater celandine, a member of the poppy family whose leaves and flowers look nothing like the poet’s beloved plant. Lesser celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, prefers damp woodlands and timbered floodplains. The same locations where you’ll find bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty, rue anemone, and a host of other favorite Buckeye wildflowers. Several states now classify lesser celandine as an “invasive,” because it’s early seasonal emergence and dense growth tendencies can smother out many of our native spring ephemerals—though when I took a walk along the riverside below the cottage earlier this morning, I found trout lily and patches of Virginia bluebell blooming happily amidst the celandine swathes. Personally, as invasive plant threats go, I’ll take lesser celandine over dastardly bush honeysuckle any day. By the middle of May, the vivid yellow blooms and shiny green leaves will all be gone. The riverine woods will dim, turn shadowy. And not until the great seasonal wheel turns full circle once more, and another April appears, will these lovely little invaders brighten our spring.