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Sharpleaf Buttercup - Ranunculus acriformis

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4
C-value: 6

Agency Status


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General Description
Stems 12–60 cm, erect with hirsute foliage. Basal leaf blades cordate, 2–6 cm long, ternate, the sessile leaflets twice lobed. Flowers with petals 7–13 mm long, ca. twice as long as the hirsute sepals. Achenes compressed, 2–3 mm long, glabrous with a hooked beak ca. 1 mm long; heads hemispheric, 5–8 mm high (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Ranunculus and Potentilla can be look-alikes because some species exhibit symmetrical flowers composed of 5 green sepals and 5 bright yellow petals that surround many ovate achenes (fruits).

Ranunculus species are in Family Ranunculaceae. Flowers exhibit shiny yellow petals, sepals that are separated to their base, and lack bracts between the sepals. In generalizing and looking from a distance, plants don’t appear hairy and seem rather darker green and glossier. Achenes are beaked.

Potentilla species are in the Family Rosaceae. Yellow-flowered forbs tend to have matted yellow petals, sepals united at their base and at least partially united to the ovary (forming a hypanthium), and often have bracts between the sepals. In generalizing and looking from a distance, plants often appear hairy and lighter or dull green. Achenes are not beaked.

Sharpleaf Buttercup - Ranunculus acriformis, native and desirable:
* Basal leaf blades are broadly ovate to cordate in outline, deeply 3-divided (ternate). Sepals reflexed. Ultimate leaf segments are less numerous.
* Beak of the achene is about 1mm long and more compressed.
* Collectively the fruits are hemispheric in side-view.

Tall Buttercup - Ranunculus acris, exotic and Noxious:
* Basal leaf blades pentagonal (5-sided) in shape that are mostly deeply divided into about 3 palmate lobes that again deeply divided into 2-3 acute segments. Ultimate leaf segments are more numerous.
* Beak of the achene is about 0.5 mm long.
* Sepals spread outwards.
* Collectively the fruits are globose in side-view.

Species Range

Range Comments
ID, MT south to UT and CO (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 21

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Moist grassland, meadows, steppe, often near streams; montane, subalpine (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

The following animal species have been reported as pollinators of this plant species or its genus where their geographic ranges overlap: Bombus auricomus, Bombus bifarius, Bombus nevadensis, and Bombus bimaculatus (Macior 1968, Thorp et al. 1983).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 1997. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Volume 3. Magnoliophyta: Magnoliidae and Hamamelidae. Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, NY. xxiii + 590 pp.
    • Lesica, P., M.T. Lavin, and P.F. Stickney. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press. viii + 771 p.
    • Macior, L.M. 1968. Bombus (Hymenoptera, Apidae) queen foraging in relation to vernal pollination in Wisconsin. Ecology 49:20-25.
    • Thorp, R.W., D.S. Horning, and L.L. Dunning. 1983. Bumble bees and cuckoo bumble bees of California (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Bulletin of the California Insect Survey 23:1-79.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Culver, D.R. 1994. Floristic analysis of the Centennial Region, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 199 pp.
    • Dale, D. 1973. Effects of trail use under forests in the Madison Range, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 96 pp.
    • King, C. R. 1953. The Ranunculaceae of Montana. M.S. Thesis, Bozeman, MT: Montana State College. 82 p.
    • Law, D.J. 1999. A comparison of water table dynamics and soil texture under black cottonwood recent alluvial bar, beaked sedge, and Geyer's/Drummond's willow communities. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 68 p.
    • Simanonok, M. 2018. Plant-pollinator network assembly after wildfire. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 123 p.
    • Simanonok, M.P. and L.A. Burkle. 2019. Nesting success of wood-cavity-nesting bees declines with increasing time since wildfire. Ecology and Evolution 9:12436-12445.
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Sharpleaf Buttercup — Ranunculus acriformis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from