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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Caltha palustris L.

Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Common Name:

marsh marigold, cowslip


Marsh marigold grows in fens, swamps and meadows with rich organic soils that are often flooded in spring and saturated to the surface most of the year -- where “cows slip”. It’s often an indicator of groundwater discharge.

It thrives in full sun or partial shade and is one of the first flowers to bloom each spring from early April through May.

Marsh marigold is a perennial native forb with fibrous roots; leaves are heart-shaped or round with a deep sinus --like a “cow’s lip” -- on long hollow stems that arise from the base of the plant; flowers are 2 to 4 cm across, yellow, usually with 5 petal-like sepals. As in many species in the buttercup family each flower has many stamens and produces many seeds. Sepals drop as the seeds mature.

The plants spread not only by seed, but by producing roots and new shoots at nodes on the stem where it touches the ground.

  • Origin of the Name: Caltha: Gr., kalthos, goblet, refers to the cup-shaped flowers; palustris:  L., palus, marsh
  • Range:  Circumboreal, s. to VA, IL, mountains of NC                                                                      
  • WI Range:  Statewide
  • Common associates: Skunk cabbage, tussock sedge, jewelweed
  • Wetland Indicator Status: OBL
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 5 (S&W), C = 6 (MI)
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