Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Celery Buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus) is an annual weed, mainly confined to permanently or seasonally wet areas.
  • It is toxic to stock and humans, and can cause death if consumed in quantity.
  • Although widespread, it is rarely noted as being particularly abundant or troublesome (other than the potential of its danger to stock).
  • It produces many (hundreds) of seeds per flower so, if left uncontrolled, has the potential to dominate suitable sites.
  • It is regarded as the most toxic species of Ranunculus.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Celery Buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus) is an annual or biennial hairless or sparsely hairy herb that grows up to 80 cm (but usually less than 50 cm) high. It reproduces by seed only. The stems are usually multi-branched above the base, hollow at least in the lower part, arising from a tuft of basal leaves with stalks to 20 cm long with blades 2–8 cm long divided into 3 or 5 bluntly toothed or lobed segments. The upper leaves are shorter-stalked and less divided with the uppermost ones often more or less oblong and quite stalkless.

The flowers (5–10 mm in diameter) are at the ends of stalks typically 3–5 cm long, with 5 outer green segments (sepals) 2–4 mm long, and 5 narrow, pale yellow petals 3–4 mm long. The central part of the flower somewhat resembles a small unripe strawberry, with numerous ovules (unripe seeds) crowded onto a domed axis, and is surrounded by about 20 stamens.

As the fruits develop, the central axis of the flower elongates to be finally about 1 cm long and bearing 100–700 small (about 1 mm long) seeds, each with a minute beak at the tip (Everist 1974; Eichler & Walsh 2007).

Robust plants may resemble Celery (although the stems do not achieve the same thickness as cultivated Celery), hence the common name.

Ranunculus sceleratus subsp sceleratus is the subspecies found in Australia. Ranunculus sceleratus subsp. reptbundus (Rupr.) Hulten is native to northern Russia and has not been recorded for Australia. It differs from subsp. sceleratus by the absence of petals in the flowers (Eichler & Walsh 2007).

For further information and assistance with identification of Celery Buttercup contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour


Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Celery Buttercup grows in permanently wet sites such as lakes, swamps, stream-margins and drains, as well as sites where water pools for shorter periods during the growing season (winter to spring) such as paddocks and ditches. It occurs mainly in cooler climates and to at least 700m altitude. Plants have been recorded as growing in water at depths of 15 cm, usually in mud, clay, or occasionally gravel. Water may be fresh or polluted, like that of sewerage treatment pondages (Eichler & Walsh 2007; National Herbarium of Victoria 2007).

Are there similar species?

Although there are numerous native buttercup (Ranunculus) species, none are likely to be confused with Celery Buttercup. The combination of fleshy, hollow stems, small flowers, and more particularly, the somewhat elongated fruiting heads with 100 or more tiny seeds should serve to distinguish this species from any other buttercups. All other native and introduced buttercups on Australia have rounded fruiting structures and larger flowers (>10 mm in diameter) with the exception of Small-flowered Buttercup (Ranunculus sessiliflorus) which has smaller flowers (< 3 mm across) (Navie 2004).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Native ecosystems: While some occurrences of Celery Buttercup may be of large populations, most populations are of relatively few plants (National Herbarium of Victoria 2007), however sometimes it 'grows thickly enough to impede water flow in shallow channels and drains' (Sainty & Jacobs 1994). It is known to be a serious weed of watercourses and marshy fields in North America (Whittemore 1997). Celery-leaved buttercup generally grows in moist or muddy sites (e.g. along drainage lines, on riverbanks, in swamps and marshes, in moist low-lying areas and in poorly drained pastures) and can displace native species from such areas (Weeds of Australia 2016).

Agriculture: The greater cause for concern is its reportedly high toxicity to stock and humans if ingested in the fresh state. Cows have been known to die from eating considerable quantities of the plant (Everist 1974) and cattle deaths in Casino, New South Wales, were attributed to this plant (McBarron 1983). It is regarded as the most toxic species of Ranunculus, the active component being Protoanemonin which causes blistering of the skin (Everist 1974).

How does it spread?

Celery Buttercup reproduces by seed only. Dispersal of Celery Buttercup is likely to be via water as well as in mud that may adhere to the feet of stock, farm machinery, water birds etc (Figuerola et al. 2003).

What is its history in Australia?

The date and manner of the arrival of Celery Buttercup into Australia is not known. The earliest herbarium collections date from the late 1800s in Tasmania and early 1900s in Victoria (Eichler & Walsh 2007; National Herbarium of Victoria 2007).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

There appears to be no published information on control of Celery Buttercup in Australia.

Non-chemical control: As Ranunculus species generally have only short-term seed viability, removal or mowing of plants prior to seeding should effectively eliminate the plant within about 3 years (assuming there is no reintroduction of seed during this period).

Chemical control: Chemical control should be effective, but additional caution should be applied when plants occur in or near water (Trounce 2004).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Celery Buttercup probably germinates in late autumn and early winter and flowering usually commences in June, rarely earlier in years of an early autumn break. If conditions remain wet then flowering may continue through spring to early summer. Plants progress rapidly from flowering to fruiting, typically within 2 or 3 weeks when the seeds simply fall from the axis of the fruiting heads (Eichler & Walsh 2007; National Herbarium of Victoria 2007).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Celery Buttercup is naturalised locally at Lake Mariginup, Western Australia, near the Murray River in South Australia, the Brisbane area of Queensland, on and east of the Dividing Range in New South Wales, and on the Murray River floodplain and in southern districts of Victoria (Eichler & Walsh 2007). It was previously known from Tasmania but now appears to have disappeared or to have been deliberately eliminated from that state, there having been no collections from there for about 100 years (Eichler & Walsh 2007; Tasmanian Herbarium 2007).

Where does it originate?

Celery Buttercup is native through much of Europe, northern Africa and western and central Asia (Eichler & Walsh 2007).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Ranunculus sceleratus

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

Celery-leaved Buttercup, Poison Buttercup, Cursed Crowfoot

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