Little Owl Gully morphed into White-faced Heron Gully! last post, and this time around I’m writing about Buttercup Gully!
On holiday, I do my best to block out my habitual preoccupation with things back home. However, when there’s a blog post deadline looming, I’ll use up some of my holiday reading time to come up with a topic and some possible angles to work on once I get back home. Topic decided, I tap on my Samsung phone’s note making app, and, popping out the stylus from a slot in the phone, I write down the subject in the middle of a blank page. Like spokes out of a wheel hub, thin black lines radiate out to a rim of brainstormed ideas.
So, last week’s four-night stay at the Department of Conservation’s Klondyke Corner campsite eight kilometres south of Arthur’s Pass Village, had me doing just that. And in fact, the Dobson Nature Walk, a few kilometres north of the village, acted as the catalyst for this week’s posting.
Among the astonishingly diverse mix of regenerating native plants we saw on the walk, the so-called Mt Cook Lily (despite it being a buttercup!) was in full white-flowered bloom. By way of contrast, it put me in mind of the flowering yellow buttercups back home, decidedly not native and like so many introduced plants and animals, an invasive species.
An unusually lengthy La Nina weather pattern has kept us much wetter than usual, and free of drought, for the past seven years. Combine that with our heavy, slow draining soils under pasture left ungrazed for two to three months at a time, growing long and lush for cows and goats, and you’ve got optimum conditions for the underground runners (stolons) of our aptly named ‘creeping buttercup’ species to produce dense and extensive spreads of the stuff.
Mercifully, the vast majority of our paddocks, (even The Soggy Hollow and Soggy Bottom!) are still either entirely free of buttercup or it has made inroads in only small pockets. Unfortunately, that can’t be said of a couple of other areas susceptible to prolonged sogginess – the gully and the paddock above the vegetable garden.
Of course, in flower, as it is now, it daubs the land’s canvas with a yellow gloss that’s pleasing to the eye amidst the vast expanse of greens and sky blues. And I imagine many of you, like me, will have fond childhood memories of buttercups under the chin antics – the yellow reflection on your skin proving that you like butter!
In the course of getting a clearer picture on whether the plant’s spread warranted the apprehension I’ve felt recently before moving the cows onto a buttercup infested area, I came across the science explaining the petal’s unique reflective qualities:
This new study shows how the buttercup’s exceptionally bright appearance is a result of a special feature of the petal structure. The epidermal layer of cells has not one but two extremely flat surfaces from which light is reflected. One is the top of the cells, the other exists because the epidermis is separated from the lower layers of the petal by an air gap. Reflection of light by the smooth surface of the cells and by the air layer effectively doubles the gloss of the petal, explaining why buttercups are so much better at reflecting light under your chin than any other flower. (See Buttercups – Eat The Weeds and other things, too)
How exquisite to see buttercups in a new light. (Excuse the pun.)
Now even less of a stranger to the buttercup’s glories than before, it still needs to be said that I found out that the toxins the plant produces have the potential to be particularly rough on a cow’s gastrointestinal system:
Protoanemonin is an irritant oil glycoside that is not readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract or metabolized in it, with the result that irritation is likely to occur in the oral cavity and throughout the gastrointestinal tract. The toxin is most abundant in the roots, which may be eaten by grazing animals that inadvertently pull up the whole plant when soil is soft. Clinical signs include oral irritation, hypersalivation, diarrhea, depression, and irritated skin of the muzzle. Introduced plants known to contain significant levels of protoanemonin include Ranunculus spp. (buttercups) … (See Protoanemonin – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics)
Although not palatable to cows, they have no choice but to wrap their tongues around grass and buttercup alike as they rip out mouthfuls. Reassuringly, there have been no recorded cases in New Zealand of buttercup poisoning being the cause of death of a cow. In fact, everything should be fine so long as there’s plenty of good grass mixed in with the buttercups. That’s certainly the case in my paddocks, and I’ve not noticed any adverse reactions to ingesting quite large quantities of the stuff.
Nice to reduce the list of Little Owl Gully ruminations I need to block out when on holiday. Albeit by only one!