Ranunculus flammula (Lesser Spearwort)

Plant Info
Also known as: Creeping Spearwort, Creeping Buttercup
Family:Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; sandy or mussy shorelines and ephemeral ponds
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:2 to 4 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flower] Solitary yellow flower on a slender, green to reddish, 2 to 3-inch stalk ascending from the leafy nodes of the creeping stem, typically only one flowering stalk per node. Flowers are about 1/3 inch across with 4 to 11 (usually 5) egg shaped petals with numerous yellow stamens around the green styles in the center. Behind the flower are 4 or 5 spreading sepals, about half the petal length, hairless or short hairy.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple, up to 1¼ inches long and less than ½ inch wide, linear, lance, spatula or spear shaped, narrowing into a slender stalk; sometimes the blade is barely wider than the stalk. Edges are smooth or finely serrated, surfaces smooth or with fine hairs (pubescent). Leaves are mostly in upright or spreading clusters at the rooting nodes with a few smaller leaves along the stem.

[photo of stems and nodes] Stems are up to 16 inches long, sometimes ascending but usually creeping along the ground and rooting at the nodes, creating dense tangled mats of stems and leaves.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] The flower center expands to a rounded seed head up to 1/6 inch long. Seeds are hairless, the beak straight or curved.


Not only is Lesser Spearwort a diminutive plant that can easily be overlooked, but it also appears European settlement of Minnesota has not set well with this species. Its North American distribution would indicate a preference for cooler latitudes and elevations where it is often associated with lake shorelines. The few populations we have observed in NE counties appear to be associated with cool groundwater seeps. Historically absent from much of Minnesota's central lakes areas, the few southern populations in the metro appear to have disappeared by the late 1800s, and no specimens have been collected south of Pine county since the 1930s. Though it is not listed or tracked in any way by the Minnesota DNR, a warming climate along with continued development of northern shoreline habitats is likely to continue to push the southern boundary of this species further and further north in the coming decades. 3 recognized varieties exist, though the two in Minnesota, var. ovalis and var. reptans, scarcely differ. Some references treat var. reptans as its own species, Ranunculus reptans.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Lake County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin and Lake Counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Stephanie - Saint Paul, MN
on: 2015-05-19 23:02:18

Is the "buttered popcorn" variety considered native or non-native. I'm trying to plant only native perennials in my yard - and also trying to figure out if the type i have is invasive. Thank you for your time

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-05-21 19:14:30

Stephanie, anything with a name in quotes after the Latin is a cultivar. Some may be derived from native species but they do not necessarily serve the same function for pollinators that true natives do. It's debatable whether they can be considered native.

Posted by: Gary - Cook
on: 2019-02-26 16:43:07

Along the margins of a temporary/intermittent pool in the forest about a mile west of Devil Track Lake.

Posted by: Brett W - Pine County
on: 2023-07-08 18:16:20

Found along the sandy shoreline of a lake in General Andrews SF. Very small.

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