Ranunculus arvensis

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaRanunculaceaeRanunculusRanunculus arvensis


An annual of arable land on loams, sands, clays and chalk. The seeds are long-lived, and plants sometimes reappear on disturbed waste ground, or in gardens or new roadside verges on former arable land. Lowland.



World Distribution

As an archaeophyte R. arvensis has a Eurosiberian Southern-temperate distribution; it is widely naturalised outside this range.

Broad Habitats

Arable and horticultural (includes orchards, excludes domestic gardens)

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 5

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 6

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.7

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.9

Annual Precipitation (mm): 742

Height (cm): 60

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Therophyte (annual land plant)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 824

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 2

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 3

Atlas Change Index: -3.77

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Ranunculus arvensis L.

Corn buttercup

Status: scarce


An annual of cultivated and waste land, this former scourge of cereal crops is normally seen on heavy, and sometimes calcareous, soils. Very few large populations still occur. R. arvensis, where it occurs in any quantity, is often found with other rare weeds, including Euphorbia platyphyllos, Petroselinum segetum, Scandix pecten-veneris, Torilis arvensis and Valerianella rimosa. It has been found to increase in years with no spring cultivations and in years with wet summers and is almost entirely restricted to winter-sown crops.

An annual, its germination is greatest in autumn, with a few further seedlings cropping up in spring. Curved spiny projections on the fruit, which presumably aid dispersal by animals, give this the folk name of Devil's Curry-comb. Buried fruits can remain viable for many years although in one experiment Wilson (1990) found that over 60% of seed germinated within 5 months of sowing. 

Once a pernicious weed of arable land, earning it such names as Worrywheat and Starveacre, it was formerly widespread throughout lowland England and Wales and, to a lesser extent, Scotland. It was controlled to some extent by seed-screening but good control was obtained with the herbicides MCPA and 2,4-D developed in the 1940s and 1950s. The distribution of this species has therefore retracted at an astonishing rate, onto isolated arable sites, and it is now found at all frequently only in the midland counties of Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Nevertheless, it has been recorded in over 100 British 10 km squares since 1980, and it does not yet qualify as a scarce species.

A southern species, it occurs throughout much of lowland Europe, but is declining rapidly in the countries of north-west Europe (Jalas & Suominen 1989). It is also found in north-west Africa and southwest Asia. It is widely introduced elsewhere.


A. Smith

Atlas text references

Atlas (20d)
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jalas & Suominen (1989)
Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E
1965.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.