Glossy Yellow Lesser Celandine

Mass of Lesser Celandines, Ficaria verna. © Karen Andrews

A carpet of glossy yellow Celandines means spring. It is interesting to note how often early and late seasonal plants are yellow. Glossy yellow flowers are particularly eye-catching in winter sunshine. However, it is not what humans see that is important to the plant. Bees can see ultraviolet patterns that we cannot see. Ranunculaceae may seem a commonplace plant family, yet time and time again, science reveals its extraordinary floral tactics are worth closer investigation.

January Specimens

I noticed my first Lesser Celandines (Ficaria verna) in early January. These first specimens looked particularly bedraggled. They were particularly hard hit by this year’s harsh winter frosts. Some yellow petals had lost some of their gloss revealing patches of white starch.

Advance Scouts?

Local Lesser Celandines now seem to be trying to stage a comeback. There are numerous patches of recognisable leaves. Their first forays seem tentative. Most leaf patches are pushing out a solitary yellow flower. Are they sending out an advance scout to test the ambient temperature and presence of potential pollinators?

Spring Harbinger

The early appearance of Lesser Celandine has long inspired writers and poets. Wordsworth dedicated no fewer than 3 poems to this spring harbinger. Its glossy yellow petals have also attracted the attention of scientists. John Parkin wrote about Ranunculus petals back in 1928. (For Lesser Celandine was known as Ranunculus ficaria rather than Ficaria verna then). He challenged other botanists to find the glossy characteristic in other flowers. It seems none provided satisfactory challengers.

Seeing with Bees’ Eyes

Modern science and photography have moved on. My Lesser Celandine photo (below) reveals some of the petals’ gloss and patterns visible to the human eye. Bjørn Rørslett’s photographic website gives us an opportunity to see flowers as bees see them. Lesser Celandine demonstrates a very strong ultraviolet pattern. The petals have oily glands towards their base. This lower area absorbs ultraviolet light. The reflection of infrared light is weaker. The flower exhibits two clearly separate zones in its patterns. It has a very prominent bull’s-eye pattern.

Guiding Pollinators

Lesser Celandine does much more than guide pollinators to its target with ultraviolet patterning. The gloss contains a promise of hidden nectar. Glands at base of the petals secrete a sugary reward of nectar. However, the substance is not sensed from a distance. The flower has the capacity to angle its petals to flash, or advertise, its presence to pollinators passing overhead.

Petals for Warmth

The flower can also close its petals at dusk as temperatures drop or in intemperate conditions. Researchers have shown that the temperature inside angled petals is warmer than the ambient temperature. This capacity protects seed development.

The Lesser Celandine is not just a beautiful, yellow springtime flower, it is more intelligent than human eyes appreciate.

Gallery of Images

Close-up of gloss and patterns in Lesser Celandine petals, Ficaria verna. © Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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