Seaside crowfoot (Ranunculus cymbalaria)

Close up of seaside crowfoot flowers
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Seaside crowfoot fact file

Seaside crowfoot description

GenusRanunculus (1)

The seaside crowfoot (Ranunculus cymbalaria) is a low-growing, perennial member of the buttercup family, with creeping stems and small, yellow flowers (2) (3) (4) (5). The hairless stems, known as stolons, grow horizontally along the ground and develop roots at various points along their length (3) (6) (7). In contrast, the seaside crowfoot’s flowering stems are erect (6) (7).

The scientific name of the seaside crowfoot, cymbalaria, comes from the Greek and Latin for ‘cymbal’, and refers to the rounded shape of the leaves (2) (5). The leaves of this species mainly grow at the base of the stems and are generally heart- or kidney-shaped, with a rounded tip (2) (3) (6) (7). The margins of the leaf may have rounded teeth (3) (5) (6) (7). The seaside crowfoot’s leaves grow at alternating points along the stem (7) (8) and are quite variable in size, reaching up to about 3.8 centimetres in length and 3.2 centimetres in width (6) (7).

The flowers of the seaside crowfoot grow individually rather than in clusters (7), and each flower has five small, yellow petals (2) (3) (4) (6) (7). The pistils form a dense, cone-like centre to the flower (3), which eventually develops into a short, cylindrical cluster of fruits. The fruit of this species is dry and single-seeded (2) (3) (5) (6) (7), and is green when mature (7).

Also known as
alkali buttercup, alkali crowfoot, desert buttercup, desert crowfoot, northern seaside buttercup, Rocky Mountain buttercup, seaside buttercup, shore buttercup.
Cyrtorhyncha cymbalaria alpina, Halerpestes cymbalaria, Halerpestes cymbalaria saximontana, Ranunculus cymbalaria var. alpinus, Ranunculus cymbalaria var. saximontanus.
Height: 5 - 15 cm (2) (3)

Seaside crowfoot biology

Relatively little information is available on the biology of the seaside crowfoot, other than that it flowers in late spring and summer (3) (4) (6), usually between June and July (2) (5). In most members of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), the flowers are bisexual, possessing both male and female reproductive organs, and are usually pollinated by insects (8).

Some Native American groups have used the seaside crowfoot for its medicinal properties (6) (7).


Seaside crowfoot range

The seaside crowfoot occurs in North America, from Alaska, westward to Labrador in Canada, and south across much of the western, central and north-eastern United States (3) (4) (6) (7). It is also found in Greenland (4) (7), and has been reported to occur in parts of South America, Europe and Asia (9), although little information is available on the exact extent of its distribution.


Seaside crowfoot habitat

The seaside crowfoot prefers damp, muddy habitats such as bogs, marshes, ditches, wet meadows, mud flats, sea shores and stream banks. It often uses salty or brackish areas, and may spread into ditches where road salt has accumulated (2) (3) (5) (6) (7).


Seaside crowfoot status

The seaside crowfoot has yet to be classified by the IUCN.


Seaside crowfoot threats

The seaside crowfoot is listed as ‘Endangered’ or ‘Threatened’ in some U.S. states (2) (4) (5). However, very little information is available on the threats faced by this plant, and its conservation status has yet to be assessed by the IUCN (10).


Seaside crowfoot conservation

There are no known specific conservation measures currently in place for the seaside crowfoot.


Find out more

Find out more about the seaside crowfoot:



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Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
A plant that normally lives for more than two seasons. After an initial period, the plant produces flowers once a year.
The female reproductive organ of a flowering plant, consisting of a stigma (the pollen receptor), style (a stalk connecting the stigma with the ovary below), and ovary (encloses the ovules).
To transfer pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.


  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (July, 2011)
  2. Black, M.R. and Judziewicz, E.J. (2009) Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region: A Comprehensive Field Guide. Second Edition. University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin.
  3. Tiner Jr, R.W. (1987) A Field Guide to Coastal Wetland Plants of the Northeastern United States. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, Massachusetts.
  4. USDA PLANTS Database - Alkali buttercup, Ranunculus cymbalaria (July, 2011)
  5. Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point - Ranunculus cymbalaria (July, 2011)
  6. Flora of North America - Ranunculus cymbalaria (July, 2011)
  7. Aiken, S.G. et al. (2007) Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. NRC Research Press, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa. Available at:
  8. Heywood, V.H. (1978) Flowering Plants of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  9. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington - Ranunculus cymbalaria (July, 2011)
  10. IUCN Red List (July, 2011)

Image credit

Close up of seaside crowfoot flowers  
Close up of seaside crowfoot flowers

© Louis Gagnon /

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