Nature on our Doorsteps: Buttercups
IN LATE May and early June, roadside verges and the flowering meadows in the parks turn yellow with Buttercups.
Buttercups have 5 petals, and at the base of each of these is a rich store of nectar.
The flower’s flat, open shape makes it easy for those bees and flies with short tongues to access this pool of nectar.
Buttercup’s petals are distinctive in being shiny, making the flower appear very bright and sunny.
This lustrous appearance is due to the layers of very smooth, flat, plant cells on the petal’s surface.
These reflect back any hint of sunlight, attracting insects even on a dull day.
The reflective nature of these petals is also the origin of the childhood game of holding a Buttercup under someone’s chin.
If the yellow colour reflected onto the skin, the person was said to like butter.
It was also once believed that Buttercups gave butter its lovely yellow colour.
Cows, however, avoid eating Buttercups in the field because the plant contains an irritant substance.
In Ireland, we have around 20 species of native Buttercups, and these are all yellow or white-flowering plants.
The most commonly seen species occur in damp grassy meadows, along riversides, hedgerows, and in our lawns, much to the annoyance of some.
Nature on our Doorsteps is a weekly column written by Rosaleen Dwyer, South Dublin County Council’s Heritage Officer