Ranunculus gmelinii (Small Yellow Water Crowfoot)

Plant Info
Also known as: Gmelin's Buttercup
Family:Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; ponds, streams, wet ditches
Bloom season:July - August
Plant height:1 to 3 inches above water
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 flowers from the upper axil and the tip of a stout, usually naked stem rising an inch or 3 out of the water, maybe 2 or 3 buds but only one flower opening at a time. Flowers are ¼ to just over 1/3 inch across with usually 5 (sometimes 4, but up to 14) shiny, egg shaped, yellow petals, numerous orange to yellow stamens around a green center, and 4 or 5 spreading yellowish green sepals that are as long as or shorter than the petals.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: palmate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Most of the plant is submerged, except when stranded in mud. Leaves are simple (but often appear palmately compound) and alternate, hairless, semi-circular to kidney shaped in outline, typically wider than long, mostly ¼ to 1 inch wide, deeply dissected into 3 primary lobes that are further lobed/dissected several times by 2s and 3s into many narrow segments with rounded tips.

[photo of submersed leaves] Submersed leaves are typically larger, up to 3½ inches wide, more finely divided, the segments linear, sometimes thread-like. Emersed or floating leaves are smaller, less divided and strongly pentagonal in outline. Stems are smooth to sparsely and minutely hairy, hollow and weak, sprawling on land, floating and spreading in water, rooting at the nodes, the flowering tips strongly erect.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

The flower center expands to a round to oval seed head up to 1/3 inch long, the seeds smooth with a narrow or thread-like beak.


While Small Yellow Water Crowfoot is very similar to Large Yellow Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus flabellaris), as its name implies it is indeed smaller in both flower and leaf size (roughly half). Compared to R. flabellaris the leaves of R. gmelinii are also typically wider than long and submersed leaves tend to be less finely divided than R. flabellaris. Other than size differences it should also be noted that stems of R. gmelinii can be minutely hairy, especially on the new growth, where R. flabellaris is smooth throughout. R. gmelinii is also the more northern of the two species, with northern portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan along with North Dakota and Maine bordering the extreme southern edge of its North American range outside of higher elevations in the Rocky Mountain states. In this regard it is also smaller in both range and frequency in the Upper Midwest. While not considered rare in Minnesota, it is not especially common and is listed as Endangered in Wisconsin. With its preference for cooler habitats, R. gmelinii is going to be found in creeks, streams and ponds associated with cool forested swamps, marshes or groundwater seepages.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in St. Louis County.


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

Posted by: Ellen - Prior lake (credit river)
on: 2016-05-06 13:49:20

I think this is what we have growning in our shallow pond. We have never seen it before. Husband says stems look red. It's really spreading. Pond water flows into the Credit River behind our house. I know they aren't Marsh Marigolds. Don't know what else they could be.

Posted by: Gary - Carlton County
on: 2019-01-29 14:31:29

This species is frequent in the small oxbows and cutoff stream channels in the portion of the West Branch of the Moose Horn River that flows through my property. The plants are very durable and can become frozen in the ice during winter only to begin new growth once thawed in the spring. The flowers smell sweet. I first saw these plants here in 1975 and there are large patches still growing in the same places.

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