Temporal range: CretaceousRecent[1]
Ranunculus auricomus (type species)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Ranunculaceae

Ranunculaceae (buttercup or crowfoot family; Latin rānunculus "little frog", from rāna "frog") is a family of 2346 known species of flowering plants in 43 genera,[2] distributed worldwide.

The largest genera are Ranunculus (600 species), Delphinium (365), Thalictrum (330), Clematis (325), and Aconitum (300).


Achenes on the fruit of Pulsatilla alpina ssp. alpina.

Ranunculaceae are mostly herbaceous annuals or perennials, but some woody climbers (such as Clematis) or shrubs (e.g. Xanthorhiza).

Flower diagram of Adonis annua from Strasburger et al. 1900

Most members of the family have bisexual flowers which can be showy or inconspicuous, and can be radially or bilaterally symmetrical. The sepals and petals are generally free (unfused) and typically number four or five. In many species, the sepals are colorful and appear petal-like. In these species, the petals can be inconspicuous or absent. The stems are unarmed. The leaves are variable. Most species have both basal and cauline (stem) leaves, which are usually compound or lobed but can be simple. They are typically alternate, or occasionally opposite or even whorled. Many species, especially the perennials form rhizomes that develop new roots each year.[3]

Flowers may be solitary, but are frequently found aggregated in cymes, panicles, or spikes.

The fruit is most commonly an achene (e.g. Ranunculus, Clematis) or a follicle (e.g. Helleborus, Nigella).

Ranunculaceae contain protoanemonin, which is toxic to humans and animals. Other poisonous or toxic compounds, alkaloids and glycosides, are also common.


The family Ranunculaceae is included in the Ranunculales which is the sole order of the Ranunculanae, a superorder of eudicots according to APG 3 systematics. The phylogeny is well illustrated in [4]

Taxonomic comparisons

According to Dr John David, (2010)[5] the Ranuculaceae are combined with the Eupteleaceae, Lardizabalaceae, Menispermaceae, Berberidaceae, and Papaveraceae in the Ranunculales, the only order in the superorder Ranunculanae. This follows the work of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group.

Takhtajan 1997 includes the Ranunculaceae as the only family in the Ranunculales which he placed in a subclass, the Ranunculidae, instead of a superorder. Previously, Thorn 1992 placed the Ranunculaceae in the Berberidales, an order within the Superorder Magnolianae. Earlier Cronquist in 1981 included the Ranunculaceae along with seven other families in the Rancunculales which was included in the Magnoliidae, which he regarded as a subclass.[6]

The cladogram below is according to the APG II system, based on molecular phylogeny.






The genus Glaucidium was once put in its own family (Glaucidiaceae), but has been recently recognised as a primitive member of Ranunculaceae. Tamura (1993) recognised five subfamilies, mainly based on chromosomic and floral characteristics (Hydrastidoideae, Thalictroideae, Isopyroideae, Ranunculoideae, Helleboroideae).

Hydrastidoideae and Glaucidioideae have only one species, Hydrastis canadense and Glaucidium palmatum respectively. Coptoideae has 17 species and Thalictroideae has 450, including Thalictrum and Aquilegia. The other genera (2025 species, 81% of the family) belong to Ranunculoideae.

Some older classifications included Paeonia (peony) in Ranunculaceae but this genus is now placed in its own family, Paeoniaceae in order Saxifragales. Circaeaster and Kingdonia are now placed in Circaeasteraceae.

Fossil record

Fossils of fruits, pollen, seeds, and leaves are known from several dozen locations. The fossil record begins in the early Cretaceous and continues throughout the Tertiary. In most cases, the fossils are assigned to extant genera, or show a close relationship to a particular extant genus.[1]


Some Ranunculaceae are used as herbal medicines because of their alkaloids and glycosides, such as Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), whose root is used as a tonic.

More than 30 species are used in homeopathy, including Aconitum napellus, Cimicifuga racemosa, Clematis recta, Clematis virginiana, Hydrastis canadensis, Ranunculus bulbosus, Helleborus niger, Delphinium staphisagria, Pulsatilla nigricans etc.

Many genera are well known as cultivated flowers, such as Aconitum (monkshood), Clematis, Consolida (larkspur), Delphinium, Helleborus (Christmas rose), Trollius (globeflower).

The seeds of Nigella sativa are used as a spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.






See also


  1. 1 2 Kathleen B. Pigg & Melanie L. DeVore (2005), "Paleoactaea gen. nov. (Ranunculaceae) fruits from the Paleogene of North Dakota and the London Clay", American Journal of Botany, 92: 1650–1659, doi:10.3732/ajb.92.10.1650
  2. Christenhusz, M. J. M. & Byng, J. W. (2016). "The number of known plants species in the world and its annual increase". Phytotaxa. Magnolia Press. 261 (3): 201–217. doi:10.11646/phytotaxa.261.3.1.
  3. Flora Of North America Vol. 3. New York and Oxford. 1993. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  4. Angiosperm Phylogeny Poster
  5. Plants in their proper places
  6. Flowering Plant Gateway


  • Keener, Carl S.; Reveal, James L.; Dutton, Bryan E.; Ziman, Svetlana (August 1999). "A List of Suprageneric Names in Ranunculaceae (Magnoliophyta)". Taxon. 48 (3): 497. doi:10.2307/1224562. 
  • Stevens, P.F. (2015) [2001], Angiosperm Phylogeny Website, Missouri Botanical Garden, retrieved 13 April 2015 
  • Sandro Pignatti. Flora d'Italia, Edagricole, Bologna 1982.(Italian) ISBN 88-506-2449-2
  • Tamura, M.: "Ranunculaceae.", en Kubitzki, K., Rohwer, J.G. & Bittrich, V. (Editores). The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants. II. Flowering Plants - Dicotyledons..- Springer-Verlag: Berlín, 1993.- ISBN 3-540-55509-9
  • Strasburger, Noll, Schenck, Schimper: Lehrbuch der Botanik für Hochschulen. 4. Auflage, Gustav Fischer, Jena 1900, p. 459 (flower diagrams)
  • Kumazawa, Masao (1938). "Systematic and Phylogenetic Consideration of the Ranunculaceae and Berberidaceae". Shokubutsugaku Zasshi. 52 (613): 9–15. doi:10.15281/jplantres1887.52.9. 
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