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© Copyright: Images: Jorma Karjalainen, Peter Kullberg, Per-Olof Wickman. All rights reserved.

Glacier Buttercup

Ranunculus glacialis

  • Name also: Glacier Crowfoot
  • Family: Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 5–20 cm (2–8 in.). Stem ascending–erect, glabrous, shiny, violet.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), first white, later reddish, 20–25 mm (0.8–1.0 in.) across; petals 5, longer than sepals. Sepals 5, underside densely brown-hairy, long-lived. Receptacle hairless. Stamens several. Gynoecium separate, several pistils. 1–2 flowers terminating stem.
  • Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves long-stalked, stem leaves stalkless. Basal leaves’ blades quite round (elongated), fleshy, shiny, leaflets 3, stalked, deeply lobed. Stem leaves’ blades roundish, many-lobed.
  • Fruit: Glabrous, 2–3.2 mm (0.08–0.13 in.) long achene with 0.7–1.6 mm (0.03–0.07 in.) long, straight–curved pointed tip. Achenes several together.
  • Habitat: Edge of fell tundra meltwater streams, snow-bed sites.
  • Flowering time: July–August.
  • Endangerment: Near threatened, protected in all of Finland.

Glacier buttercup is probably one of Finland’s hardiest plants, and it appears only in Arctic areas or in cold mountain ranges. In Finland it only grows high up on Enontekiö Fell in northern Lapland and in the same mainly upper tundra region as all 20 of our 1,000 metre-plus (over 3,300 ft.) fells. Fell streams sometimes transport the achenes down the fellside, but the forest zone is too warm for this cool customer, and riverside stands are always short-lived.

Glacier buttercup doesn’t seek out warm places but graces snow-bed sites, damp with icy meltwater, and the banks of mountain streams. Glacier buttercup has adapted well to Finland’s exceedingly harsh environment: its flowering time begins only a few days after the snow has melted and it is able to ripen its seeds before the short summer ends. Glacier buttercup flowering in the middle of such an inhospitable rocky environment is a joy to behold!

Glacier buttercup’s future could be a troubled one if the climate heats up. In Finland it is not able to spread as high up into the fells as its name might suggest: its highest limit is 1,328 metres (4,350 ft) on Halti Fell, the top of our highest fell. A monitoring study has already established that the plant’s lower limit is rising.

Record-breaking plant

The world’s northernmost flowers in eastern Greenland, only 1,300 km (800 miles) from the North Pole, are glacier buttercups. This species also holds the height records for the Nordic countries (south Norwegian mountains at the height of 2,370 metres) and Europe (the Alps, 4275 metres). Compare moss heather.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family
Trees and bushes from the same family

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