Ranunculus abortivus (Little-leaf Buttercup)

Plant Info
Also known as: Kidney-leaf Buttercup, Small-flower Crowfoot
Family:Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; open woods
Bloom season:April - June
Plant height:6 to 24 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FACW NCNE: FAC
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

[photo of flowers] Flowers are at the end of naked stalks that branch out at the top of the plant. Each flower is about ¼ inch across, 5 pale yellow petals and a ring of yellow stamens around a bright green bulbous center. There are 5 round green sepals between the petals that are about as long as the petals. One plant has a few to several flowers.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are both basal and alternately attached up the stem. Basal leaves are up to 2 inches long and 2½ inches wide, round to kidney shaped, have scalloped edges and stalks up to 3 inches long. Leaves attached on the lower part of the stem are often lobed in 3 or 5 parts, also with scalloped edges, and shorter stalked. Leaves at the top near the flowers are mostly long and narrow with smooth edges and stalkless or nearly so, but may be lobed. Stems are green and hairless.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of fruit] The center bulb elongates to about ¼ inch long and becomes a head of green seeds. The seeds are oval, slightly flattened, and ripen to shiny brown.


There are several members of the buttercup family with small yellow flowers, but the leaf shape is pretty unique for each species. The wide shape variation between the basal and top leaves makes Little-leaf Buttercup pretty easy to identify. The basal leaves are the first thing to sprout in the spring and resemble those of some violets. 

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County.


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

Posted by: Bonnie - Minnetonka
on: 2010-04-14 13:33:14

Abundant....weedy???? Throughout dry-mesic backyard. Glad to find out it is native. Unfortunately I WAS pulling it. No more.

Posted by: Liz - Eagan
on: 2010-04-25 15:22:47

This is growing abundantly in the west portion of Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan. It also is growing well in my backyard. In the park the basal leaves are evident, but not so many blooms. My yard has mostly flowering plants.

Posted by: Billie Jo - Moose Lake
on: 2011-05-17 23:26:07

All over in my shade garden!

Posted by: seamus - Ramsey, Mn
on: 2012-04-19 20:12:59

I just found a single Ranunculus abortivus in the woods of Crandall Garden Farme off of 175th ave NW Ramsey,MN. A Small yet beautiful flower.

Posted by: Nancy - Stillwater,MN
on: 2015-04-19 17:52:24

i have a few plants in my backyard. I am concerned about whether it is safe for my dog. I doubt that she will eat but if she does will it poison her?

Posted by: cheryl - elm creek park
on: 2015-05-08 22:55:07

This is on the intermediate and expert loop of the mountain bike trail in elm creek regional park.

Posted by: Starr - My yard-Minneapolis
on: 2015-05-15 20:33:20

Again, Grandmother's woodland wildflower garden. Mistook for a weed and glad I didn't pull it. Took a few months to find this id-even knowing this site. Googled buttercup family after noticing it resembled aconitum slightly in the leaves.

Posted by: L. Dale - Webster in Rice county
on: 2017-04-23 15:45:56

We have these quite widespread on our property. Many up and starting to bloom this week.

Posted by: Susan - Wisconsin
on: 2017-05-17 15:15:21

The plant showed up about a month ago in my little garden. I had a hard time finding out if it was a weed or not. Glad I didn't pull it. The plant now has a pretty little yellow flower! Will it take over my garden? Thanks for any help.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-05-17 15:57:49

Susan, it does not create dense stands or colonies so isn't likely to take over your garden. If it pops up more than you like it is easy to yank out.

Posted by: Sara Nelson - Rochester
on: 2018-06-20 11:32:25

I found a tall straggling ranunculus in a ditch. It has already gone to seed and the plant looks a lot like abortivus, but has no basal leaves. Do they tend to keep their basal leaves? Or does the absence of basal leaves suggest this is something else?

Posted by: Carol Skay - Minnetonka
on: 2020-05-21 09:13:06

We have this on a slope between our yard and a wetland - however, in the early spring growth phase I'm having difficulty distinguishing it from early garlic mustard (see your photo#3 in 'more photos' in your post). I want to get rid of the latter, but don't want to be pulling out the buttercup. Any help in distinguishing between the two? Many thanks!

Posted by: Simba Blood - Minneapolis
on: 2021-04-23 11:37:25

Hello Carol Skay- The plants are very similar in spring. The difference I focus on is that the buttercup leaves are smooth and shiny, and the garlic mustard leaves very crinkled and dull. Hope that is helpful!

Posted by: Kim Mason Heinrichs - Prairie Oaks, Otsego, Wright County
on: 2023-05-12 13:44:06

I'm restoring the native vegetation on our property, which necessitates continual weeding. I was out today removing yellow rocket and found one of these in bloom.

Posted by: Carol - Cottage Grove / Washington County
on: 2023-05-31 08:41:02

This little gem bloomed among the lobelias in my rain garden.

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