Ranunculaceae: The buttercup family Characters, Distribution and Types



It is a large family (containing many members). It has about 20 genera and 1200 species around the globe. It is mostly distributed in colder regions. Its members are vastly found/exist in I limalayan region of Pakistan and India (PAK o HIND).





The plants are predominantly annual or perennial herbs or a climbing shrubs (Leather flower scientifically named as Clematis, Naravelia), rarely trees; a few are aquatic. Perennation takes place by means of rhizomes or by tuberous roots like Aconitum (Queen of poisons, or Blue rocket).


Tap root (straight and very thick, is tapering in shape, and grows directly downward; underground), adventitious or tuberous (Ranunculus spp. commonly known as meadow buttercup and Aconitum commonly known as queen of poison). The tap root system is in the early stage but sooner or later replaced by the adventitious roots (Roots that grow from any part of plant other than the radicle or its branches).


Herbaceous stem (those plants that do not have woody stems), in some climbing (clematis commonly named as western blue virginsbower) or underground rhizome (rootstalks or just rootstalks), erect or branched.


Primarily simple, alternate, or opposite (Clematis commonly named as western blue virginsbower) exstipulate rarely stipulate (Thalictrum commonly named as Meadow-rues), sheathing leaf base, petiolate rarely sessile (Delphinium common names subalpine larkspur, tall larkspur, and Barbey’s larkspur). In some aquatic species of this family leaves may show dimorphy (Ranunculus aquatilis commonly named as White water-crowfoot); unicostate or multicostate reticulate venation.




Solitary terminal (Anemone commonly named as Japanese anemone fibrous-rooted, woody-based late summer), axillary (Clematis), raceme (Aconitum, Delphinium) and cymose (Ranunculus spp.).


Pedicellate (flower with a stalk), ebracteate (having no bracts) rarely bracteate (bearing bracts), hermaphrodite (that has complete or partial reproductive organs and produces gametes), (unisexual in Meadow-rues scientifically named as Thalictrum). Mostly actinomorphic (characterized by radial symmetry) (Ranunculus commonly named as Buttercup) rarely zygomorphic (Delphinium and Aconitum) hypogynous, complete, pentamerous.


In family ranunculaceae, there is no variation of calyx and corolla in most of the flowers.  5 sepals 5 caducous (an organ or part of plant easily detached and shed at an initial stage e.g. poppies), polysepalous (separate sepals) free, imbricate (overlapping in sequence), petaloid (appearance of a petal).


Petals 3-5, composed of many separated or distinct petals called polypetalous, variously coloured, free, imbricate (edges overlapping) , sometimes petals may be absent. Sometimes, petals are changed into nectaries. caducous or wanting; nectaries present at the base of petals. Petals are united to form spur (Delphinium).


Stamens are numerous, free, spirally arranged on the thalamus, inferior, anthers dithecous,  basifixed, extrorse and adnate.


Polycarpellary (consisting of several carpels: one carpel in Delphinium and 3 to 5 in Aconitum), apocarpous (having distinct carpels that are not joined together) rarely syncarpous (having the carpels united) e.g. Nigella sativa also  commonly  called as black seed, black caraway, Roman coriander, kalonji. Ovary superior, marginal placentation (axile in Nigella).


Aggregate, etaerio of achenes (Buttercup scientifically known as Ranunculus), etaerio of follicle (Aconitum commonly known as devil’s helmet, queen of poisons, or blue rocket), follicle (Delphinium commonly known as Larkspur), septicidal capsule (Nigella) or berry (Actaea), etaerio of drupes (Adonis), etaerio of berries (Hydrastis) and simple pod (Xanthorhiza).


Oily small and Endospermic seed.


Floral formula and floral diagram of Ranunculaceae


Economic importance of Ranunculaceae

Ornamental plants: 

Most plants are cultivated for their beautiful flowers like Ranunculus bulbosus (Buttercup), Trollius (Globeflower), Glaucidium  (Japanese Wood Poppy) etc.

Medicinal plants:

Some members of this family are used for medicinal purposes they are called as medicinal plants. Aconitum (Wolf’s bane) yields an alkaloid aconitina. Clematis napaulensis, D.C. Its purpose is to maintain the health of the individual and alleviate disease in both is symptomatic and causative state. Thallicirom yields mamira. It is used in the treatment of ophthalmia.


Few members of family Ranunculaceae are used as condiments. For example, seeds of Nigella (Fennel flower) It is also used as drugs.


Some members are needs like R. antriccaus.

Importance of honey bees:

Most members of this family have nectaries. F lic nectaries have great importance for honey bees.

Poisonous species:

Some members of this family produce acrid juice. It is highly poisonous.


Distribution pattern

Genera: It has almost 20 genera.

Species: Almost 1200 species are exists in this family.

Distribution: The member of this family are distributed in cold regions.

Presence/Existence: Its members are broadly found in I limalayan region of PAK, HIND (Pakistan and India). 


Important Species of Ranunculaceae

  • Thalictrum delavayi (Chinese meadow-rue)
  • Ranunculus muricatus. Butter cup
  • Delphinium ajacis, Larkspur
  • Ficaria verna (Pilewort)
  • Ranunculus muricatus (a weed)
  • Aconitum uncinatum (a wild herb)

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