Buttercups are flowering plants, mostly with yellow flowers, that are part of the Ranunculus family. There are dozens of species of buttercups. Some are cultivated garden plants, but most are weeds. Many buttercups grow wild on roadsides, meadows, parks and lawns. The petals of many species of buttercups curve slightly upward to form a subtle cup or bowl shape and their shape and yellow color account for their name.
Some gardening experts note that the appearance of wild buttercups in the garden means that the soil is likely to contain clay. Having good drainage in the garden may help prevent the growth of buttercups. They often prefer a damp clay soil. Buttercups are hearty plants and unless all of the roots are removed they tend to grow back.
The Giant American Buttercup is a popular type of cultivated garden perennial in the United States. It looks different than most kinds of buttercups. The Giant American Buttercup grows in deep pink, red and white as well as yellow and its petals are layered. This variety of buttercup grows best in full sun and usually needs to be taken indoors in the winter so containers often work well for planting the bulbs.
Buttercups were used as a source of yellow and red dyes by some Native American tribes such as the Potawatomi and the Ojibwe to color dried grasses used to make baskets. They were also used in salves in folk medicine to remove warts. The sap, thorns and juice of buttercups used directly can cause blisters in the mouth and on the skin. Buttercups are poisonous if eaten and they have a very acrid taste that allows animals to leave them alone. They lose most of their toxins when they are dried.
Many people remember the childhood game of holding a buttercup under their chin. If the yellow color was reflected on the chin that meant the person liked butter. Some crafters like to press the small yellow flowers and use them to decorate cards and stationery.