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Outdoors: Dear little buttercups

In the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, a plump and pleasing, albeit mature, woman is welcomed aboard the H.M.S. Pinafore singing, “I'm called Little Buttercup, dear Little Buttercup, though I could never tell why.”

Which made me wonder, why are bright yellow flowers called buttercups?

Apparently, back in jolly old England, dairy farmers erroneously believed that these blossoms gave butter its yellow hue.

It doesn’t.

In fact, most buttercups are acrid, and also poisonous, so livestock avoids eating them.

Our beloved Marsh Marigolds are in the buttercup family, but most of the other 275 species are smaller—they are little buttercups.

No matter the size or species, blossoms of buttercups appear shiny. They look like they have been shellacked.

That is extremely attractive to pollinating insects.

The yellow is caused by pigments, but the gloss is the result of layers of air just below the surface of the petals.

Like little mirrors, they reflect sunlight.

In an article published by "The Guardian," Paul Simons wrote, “Buttercup flowers also track the sun. On cold days, the petals make a cup shape like a satellite dish, collecting solar energy from the sunshine and warming up the flowers, which makes them even more inviting to insects.”

I prefer the scientific name for the buttercup family.

Like Iolanthe, these plants are found near or in damp areas or frog-filled streams, so they are called Ranunculus, which is Latin for “little frog.”

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.