Fig Buttercup Now Illegal In South Carolina

By: Steve Compton, SC Department of Plant Industry

The Fig Buttercup, also known as lesser celandine (Ficaria verna), is a newly regulated plant pest that has become more aggressive over recent years. It is commonly bought and sold in the North and Southeast and is recognizable by its bright yellow flowers and deep green leaves. Until recently, it was not known to be a threat to the local ecosystems; however, wetlands and other moist areas allow this plant to thrive and spread rapidly. Fig Buttercup has been reported in multiple counties of South Carolina and a survey near and at reported sites will be conducted by the Department of Plant Industry and volunteers during the spring of 2018.

Fig Buttercup is marked by short life cycles. This plant is one of the first to emerge in the early spring and quickly fades from sight as the summer warmth arrives and other plants cover this low growing perennial. The fact that it is not easily detected when not in flower makes the window of control difficult. Mechanical and chemical control must be done in a timely manner.

Fig Buttercup has several distinct growth strategies which allow it to compete with desirable and sometimes rare native species. Fig Buttercup propagates through root cuttings, seeds, and small bulbs that help it spread and create dense clusters of flowers. Due to the density of the plants, other desirable native species are choked out and those that are not must compete for the resources available.

Due to the riparian habitat of Fig Buttercup it is easily spread by soil movement caused by flooding and disturbance by humans. USDA APHIS considers Fig Buttercup to be a high risk weed which could easily spread across vast areas of the United States.

Fig buttercup

Fig Buttercup and other plants in the family also contain compounds that when crushed are toxic to humans and livestock. Care should be used if touching or removing plants by hand as the plant’s sap could cause rash and skin irritation.

Due to the visual similarity of a native plant, the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), removal of the plant by anyone other than a professional is not recommended. Small patches can be removed by hand if extreme care is taken, removing all tubers and bulbs. Larger patches should be treated with a systemic herbicide at a time that is safe for the surrounding vegetation. The best time for treatment is before desirable vegetation emerges in the early spring and after Fig Buttercup emerges. Multiple chemical treatments may be needed to fully remove any infestation.

If you suspect you have found Fig Buttercup, contact Clemson University Department of Plant Industry at invasives@clemson.edu or 864-646-2140.  In the meantime, avoid disturbing the area to prevent further spread and inform others not to buy this plant or move soil from areas where the plant grows. The efforts to preserve our native ecosystem depends on everyone becoming aware of the harm this invasive plant can cause when it spreads into our most pristine lands.

Photo by J. Marlow

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