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Creeping Buttercup

Ranunculus repens
Updated Jul 15, 2024
 
1

Make a Positive Identification

  • Creeping buttercup is a perennial (lives many years), herbaceous (soft leaves and stems) plant with yellow flowers.
  • It is a widespread weed in the Pacific Northwest, especially west of the Cascade Mountains.
  • Its stems grow 1–2 feet tall, as shown in the photo above.
  • It also spreads across the ground with creeping stems that take root.
  • Creeping buttercup forms dense stands. It crowds out other herbaceous plants.
  • It grows in a wide range of habitats, including marshes, roadsides, fields, gardens, lawns, and neglected areas. It prefers wet soil.
  • All parts of the plant are poisonous and can make livestock ill or die. Livestock avoid eating it, but will consume it if there isn’t enough other forage available.
Creeping Buttercup
Species: Creeping buttercup
Creeping buttercup leaves

iStock

Creeping buttercup’s leaves have three segments. Each leaflet is deeply lobed and toothed. Leaves are dark-green and hairy. The leaves sometimes have pale spots.

Species: Creeping buttercup
Creeping buttercup flower

Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Creeping buttercup’s shiny yellow flowers are 1 inch across. They have 5–7 petals that are about ½-inch long. There are 5 green floral leaves (sepals) below each flower. Each flower forms on a single stem.

Species: Creeping buttercup
Example of creeping buttercup stems that take root

Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Creeping buttercup spreads by tough stems that grow across the ground and take root.

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LOOK-ALIKE: LESSER CELANDINE
Species: Lesser Celandine
Lesser celandine flower

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) is another invasive buttercup species with shiny yellow flowers. It forms dense patches that are visible in later winter and spring. Above ground, the stems die back and are not visible during the summer and fall. Below ground, lesser celandine forms tubers.


Take action

Lesser celandine is an invasive weed. Take action to control it.

 
2

Creeping Buttercup Benefits

  • Creeping buttercup is an invasive weed. It doesn’t have any benefits for people and the environment.
 

Creeping Buttercup Risks

  • If left unmanaged, creeping buttercup forms a dense mat of stems and leaves that smothers other plants.
  • It has little food value to native animals and insects.
  • Creeping buttercup reduces the habitat value of an area by excluding native plants.
Risk Card
Does it cause harm?
Adults & Children
High
Property
High
Pets
High
Annoyance
High
Environment
High
Action Highly Recommended
 
3

Take Action

If you have creeping buttercup property you manage, take action to control it in areas you can't tolerate it. Creeping buttercup is widely established.

Do I need to take action?

  • Yes. Remove individual plants and small patches where you don’t want it growing. Established patches require several years to control.
  • Creeping buttercup is already well established. It spreads easily by seed and/or vegetative pieces. It is widely adapted and distributed across North America.
  • It is currently sold by nurseries and online. Don’t buy this invasive species or plant it in your landscape.

What if I do nothing?
Creeping buttercup patches will keep spreading and become more difficult to control.

 
4

Prevent Creeping Buttercup

New creeping buttercup growth

Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Watch for Creeping Buttercup Seedlings and Regrowth
  • Return to the site after control activities and look for regrowth. Creeping buttercup regrows from cut stems, stem fragments, and roots. Take action as needed.
  • Look for creeping buttercup seedlings and rosettes (shown in photo).
Gloved hand using metal brush to clean shovel

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Remove Dirt from Shoes and Equipment
  • After working or traveling in a patch of creeping buttercup, clean your boots and tools. Use a wire brush to remove soil and seeds.
  • If you drive into the creeping buttercup stand, clean your vehicle.
Landscape area with native plants growing densely together

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Install New Plants
  • Take care of your plants to get them established and suppress creeping buttercup regrowth.
  • Replanting stabilizes the soil surface, shades creeping buttercup seedlings, and creates habitat.
  • A creeping buttercup infestation and removal activities may significantly damage a site. There may be few or no remaining desirable plants.
  • Plan for at least 2-3 years of monitoring and maintenance.
  • Your local Extension specialist, soil and water conservation district, or a professional revegetation specialist can suggest strategies for your area.
 
5
Solutions for Creeping Buttercup

Early Detection and Rapid Response

Watch for creeping buttercup on property you manage. Remove it before it becomes a bigger problem.

Physical Removal of Plants and Non-Chemical Options

  • Dig out plants and sift the soil for roots and stem fragments.
  • Creeping buttercup will regrow from broken stem and root fragments. Dispose of the stems and roots in the green waste stream.

Herbicides (Weed Killers)

Herbicides effectively control creeping buttercup when used according to the label instructions.

Monitoring and Follow-up

  • Following removal, return to the area every several months. Look for regrowth and seedlings. Take action as needed. Established plants require several years of follow-up control actions.
  • After you remove creeping buttercup, new plants will grow in the same spot unless you take steps to prevent them.

NEED HELP?

Consider a licensed pest control company. Learn How to Hire a Pest Control Company.
Your local Extension Specialist in Oregon  and other states  can suggest other methods.

Jump To

Method Does it work? Is it safe? Recommendation
A
Physically Remove Plants
Very effective
Low risk
B
Herbicides Triclopyr & Glyphosate
Effective
Moderate risk
Use if Necessary
C
If Using Herbicides, Protect Yourself & Minimize Risks
 
A

Physically Remove Plants

Non-Chemical Method

Ohio State Weed Lab, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Physically Remove Plants

Dig out plants. Sift soil and remove stem and root fragments as shown in the photo.

Does it work?
Very effective
  • It’s challenging to remove all the root pieces from the soil. Expect it to regrow.
  • Use preventive measures for best results.
How much effort?
High effort
  • Hand-pull and dig plants when the soil is moist.
  • Dispose of plants in sturdy plastic bags in the trash.
What's the risk?
Low risk
Possible risk of exposure or harm from chemicals
NONE

Tips for Removing Creeping Buttercup

  • Creeping buttercup is shallow-rooted, so it can be dug up with hand tools.
  • Be careful to remove all root and stem fragments.
  • It is easiest to remove creeping buttercup plants during fall through spring when the soil is moist.

Soil Disturbance and Erosion

  • Minimize soil disturbance as much as possible when removing creeping buttercup.
  • Regrade the soil after digging roots. Apply mulch (when appropriate).
  • Take steps to prevent erosion as needed.
  • Replant the area to shade creeping buttercup seedlings.
Curbside green waste bin

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

Put creeping buttercup roots and stems in your green waste bin. Or take it to a local green waste composting facility. Don’t compost creeping buttercup on your property; it will regrow.

 
B

Herbicides Triclopyr & Glyphosate

Chemical Method: Use with caution

iStock

Herbicides Triclopyr & Glyphosate

Use if Necessary

Herbicides that contain the active ingredients triclopyr and glyphosate effectively control creeping buttercup when used according to label directions.

Does it work?
Effective
  • It requires several years of monitoring and effort to get rid of creeping buttercup.
  • Use preventive measures for best results.
How much effort?
Moderate effort
  • Treat individual creeping buttercup plants and patches.
  • Return to the area each year and take action as needed.
What's the risk?
Moderate risk
  • Herbicides come with real risks. ALWAYS read the entire label front to back. Review instructions even for brands you know.
  • Herbicides can run off your site into waterways and may harm wildlife. See How to Keep Pesticides Out of Waterways.
Possible risk of exposure or harm from chemicals
Using herbicides includes some amount of risk. The lowest risk comes with using alternative methods.

You may be exposed to an herbicide if you:

  • Get it on your skin
  • Breathe it in
  • Eat or smoke afterward without washing hands
  • Touch or eat plants that are wet with spray (you, pets, or children)
  • Bring it inside on your shoes or clothes

Follow directions closely to reduce risk.

Herbicides with active ingredients triclopyr and/or glyphosate, used individually or in a mixture, are effective chemical treatments for creeping buttercup. Look for these chemical names in the “Active Ingredients” section of product labels.

Photo of herbicide label highlighting active ingredient triclopyr

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

  • The white box on the example product label highlights active ingredient triclopyr. The text on the label states “Kills completely.”
  • Triclopyr doesn’t injure most grasses. It’s a good choice for treating creeping buttercup growing next to desired grasses in lawn, pasture, and meadow areas.
  • Some products with triclopyr (ester formulations) become a vapor when applied on hot days. The vapor can damage nearby plants. Check the label for temperature limits.
Photo of herbicide label highlighting active ingredient glyphosate

Weston Miller, Oregon State University

  • The white box on the example label highlights active ingredient glyphosate. The text on the label states “Kills grass and weeds around flower beds, trees, shrubs....”
  • Glyphosate will damage most plants and grasses. Don’t let the spray contact plants you want to keep.

Herbicide Application Tips

  • Apply herbicide to creeping buttercup when it is actively growing from spring through fall.
  • Herbicide treatments are less effective if the plants are stressed due to lack of water.
  • Expect that creeping buttercup will regrow after treatment with herbicides. Look for regrowth and re-treat as needed.
 

If Using Herbicides, Protect Yourself & Minimize Risks

Chemical Method: Use with Caution
Great blue heron in marsh

BrianLasenby, iStock

Why is it important to read herbicide labels?

  • They have detailed information on how to use the product correctly and legally.
  • They contain information on potential hazards of the product.
  • They provide instructions you should follow for poisonings and spills.
  • Following label instructions helps you to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits.

Key Herbicide Safety Tips

  • Read the entire label front to back.
  • Follow the instructions.
  • Review the instructions even for brands you know.
  • Only apply the product where the label says it may be applied.
  • Be precise in your application. More is not better.

The Label is the Law

ALWAYS read the label before using herbicide products. The label is a legal document that provides information on how to safely use the herbicide. This helps avoid harm to human health and the environment. Using an herbicide in off-label ways is illegal. It can result in legal enforcement actions.

READ THE LABEL & Follow Instructions
It has instructions to protect you and the environment.

  • Labels are different for every product and they often change over time.
  • Use a magnifying glass for small print.
  • Pay attention to CAUTION, WARNING, and DANGER statements.
  • Pay attention to the PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS.
  • The law states you must read and follow herbicide instructions.

Protect Yourself
Eye, skin & lung irritants

  • Wear the right protective gear. This often includes chemical-resistant gloves, safety glasses, a long-sleeve shirt, pants, socks, and shoes.
  • Mix outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wash hands after mixing or applying, and before eating or smoking.
  • Take a shower immediately after handling herbicides.
  • Wash clothes worn while mixing or applying separately from other laundry.

Protect Children & Pets
Children and pets are at risk if they eat or touch the plants before it dries.

  • Keep them away during and after applying herbicides (read label for how long).
  • Remove toys and pet dishes from yard before applying.
  • Don’t track herbicide products into your home on shoes or clothes.

Protect Plants You Want to Keep

  • Glyphosate and similar herbicide ingredients damage both grass and broadleaf plants.
  • Minimize spraying of foliage, stems, exposed roots, or the trunks of desirable shrubs or trees to avoid harm.
  • Follow the label to avoid damaging the roots of trees and shrubs.

Avoid Wet, Windy, or Hot Weather
Use during favorable weather for best results.

  • Don’t spray when it’s raining or when rain is expected in the next 24 hours.
  • Wind causes spray to drift that can get on you and desired plants.
  • Herbicides may be less effective in hot weather if the target plants are moisture-stressed.
  • Some herbicides can turn into a vapor in hot weather and damage nearby plants.

Storage & Disposal

  • Store in a secure area away from children.
  • Don’t put unused herbicide products in the trash.
  • Never pour down any drain or waterway.
  • Take unused herbicides to a hazardous waste facility.

Call  1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687) to find out where to dispose of herbicides.

For the Portland metro region in Oregon, contact Metro’s Recycling Information. Call  503-234-3000, email   or visit Metro’s website  

More about:

About Using Pesticides on School Grounds in Oregon

If using pesticides on school grounds, there are special rules in Oregon. See School Integrated Pest Management  (Oregon Department of Agriculture).

NEED HELP?

The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC)  can answer questions about pest control chemicals.
 1-800-858-7378 or npic@ace.orst.edu  

Consider using a licensed pest or weed control company. Learn How to Hire a Pest Control Company.

Your local Extension Specialist in Oregon  and other states  can suggest other methods.

Invasive Species Alert

  • Invasives are non-native species that spread aggressively and alter the environment.
  • Controlling creeping buttecup is costly.
  • Please do your part to control creeping buttercup on property you manage.

If you think you’ve found creeping buttercup in the grey areas of this map, please report it to the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline at:  1-866-INVADER (1-888-468-2337) or use their online reporting form  

open Map static invasive map
Invasive species data @ 2022, iMapInvasives (NatureServe)

If you find creeping buttercup in a new area (orange shows already reported cases), please report it  

View Larger Map >

Content provided by editor Weston Miller and writer J. Jeremiah Mann. Pesticide safety information edited by Kaci Buhl.

 Peer reviewed by OSU Department of Horticulture.

Photo of Weston Miller

Weston Miller

Project Founder and Content Writer

Weston Miller served as Community and Urban Horticulture faculty for Oregon State University Extension Service for Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties. Weston is an author for content for this website. He developed funding partnerships with Portland area agencies to initiate and build out the Solve Pest Problems website focused on this goals:

J. Jeremiah Mann

J. Jeremiah Mann

J. Jeremiah Mann completed a Physical Science undergraduate degree at Humboldt State University, and M.S, Ph.D focusing on plant science topics at UC Davis. He went on to work for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and in a leadership position serving a private agricultural technology company. He currently lives in Sacramento California where he consults on pest and property management topics.

Photo of Kaci Buhl

Kaci Buhl

At the state level, I lead the Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP). The program hosts live recertification events around the state, serving over 1,000 licensed pesticide applicators each year. We also produce web-based training modules and license-preparation study manuals. Special training for unlicensed pesticide applicators is also available through a grant from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The PSEP at OSU works closely with the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Pesticides Division.