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Adder’s Tongue Spearwort

Ranunculus ophioglossifolius

How to spot it

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort is a pretty plant with small, bright yellow buttercup-like flowers. The leaves are pointed oval, quite unlike ordinary buttercup leaves. When submerged, the pale greenish-yellow leaves float to the surface like small water-lily leaves.

Where to spot it

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort can be found in wet or marshy places, often round the edges of field ponds. It prospers at the edge of cattle ponds in the churned-up mud. It’s a sensitive plant, requiring low competition, low water levels in summer, and plenty of rain in early winter.

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort is now found at only two sites in Gloucestershire, having previously grown in several parts of southern England. With human intervention, a sizeable population of plants flower and fruit every year.

How’s it doing?

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort is classified as Vulnerable and protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, perhaps unsurprising given its exceedingly picky requirements.

It is mainly threatened by loss of grazing on pastures and commons, loss of muddy ponds, or overgrazing and excessive trampling too early in the year. Climate change with drier winters also causes drying out of small ponds. Without a mild, frost-free Autumn and enough rain to keep the ground moist for seedlings to develop, they can be uprooted by birds or killed by trampling livestock.

Things you might not know

  • The Latin name Ranunculus means ‘froglike’, referring to the plant’s preference for aquatic habitats.
  • The specific part of the scientific name, ophioglossifolius refers to the shape of the leaves that resemble the small fern Ophioglossum.
  • Adder’s Tongue Spearwort is at the northern edge of its range in Britain.
  • The two sites where it can be found in Gloucestershire are Badgeworth (hence its alternative name: the Badgeworth Buttercup) and Inglestone Common.

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