Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Corn buttercup

Corn buttercup (Ranunculus arvensis) was formerly a widespread annual weed of cultivated ground, especially cornfields, but over the past century it, like similar weeds – including corn cockle (Agrostemma githago) and cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) – it has rapidly declined, so that it is rarely found  as a truly wild plant, and survives mainly where the land has been intentionally managed to encourage rare weeds.  (The image here was take at the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust’s Lower Smite Farm, in June 2019).

In the nineteenth century, when it was more common and widespread, corn buttercup acquired some 26 local names, some of which referred to its status as a harmful weed:                                                                                                        Hungerweed in Gloucestershire and Norfolk                                                          Starve-acre in Buckinghamshire, Essex, Northamptonshire, and Oxfordshire, ‘from its impoverishing the soil, or being indicative of poor land’                       and the unlocalised hellweed.

Corn buttercup’s seeds (technically achenes – dry, indehiscent, one-seeded fruits), being covered with spines, are prickly, giving rise to other names including:                                                                                                            Devil’s claws on the Isle of Wight                                                                              Devil’s coachwheel in Hampshire                                                                            Devil’s currycomb in Shropshire                                                                  Hedgehogs in Surrey                                                                                                  Pricklebacks in Yorkshire                                                                                            Scratch-bur in Bedfordshire                                                                                        Scratch-weed in Northamptonshire                                                                    and the unlocalised urchin-crowfoot.

As far as is known, there are no recorded medicinal or other uses of the plant.