This Is Not a Buttercup

The Large-Leaved Avens (Geum macrophyllum) is mistaken as some sort of buttercup (Ranunculus sp.) by many. It’s an understandable mistake, as buttercups tend to have the same five yellow petals (albeit far glossier) as this avens does. The foliage of this plant also somewhat resembles the foliage of many buttercup species. Completing the deception, the Large-Leaved Avens typically grows in the same sort of moist, wooded areas that is favored by both a native and an invasive buttercup.

Of those two buttercups, the one that starts blooming at the same time as this avens has much smaller flowers. The other buttercup starts blooming later, and although its flowers are larger, it has a spreading habit that this avens lacks, and moreover is not typically as tall as the Large-Leaved Avens, either.

Despite appearances, this plant is not even closely related to the buttercups. The latter are in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae); the Large-Leaved Avens belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). This plant and our woodland buttercups have evolved to have a similar form because they grow in similar environments, and are thus subject to similar pressures of natural selection, a process is known as convergent evolution.

By late summer, this avens’ fruits will have ripened into burs that stick to clothing and fur.

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