Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Eschscholtz’s buttercup

with 19 comments

When I came across this wildflower in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park on August 29, 2017, I knew from the resemblance to native buttercups in Austin that I was looking at a relative. A little research has led me to believe that the flower in Alberta was an Eschscholtz’s buttercup, Ranunculus eschscholtzii. Other names for it are subalpine buttercup and spruce-fir buttercup.

This someone with an sch in his name has almost never encountered a name with two consecutive occurrences of sch. If you’d like to know more about the double-sch man, you’re welcome to read an article on Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz. Look near the end for an unexpected connection between that early-19th-century naturalist and mid-20th-century nuclear weapons.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 12, 2018 at 4:57 AM

19 Responses

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  1. It’s amazing how much he got around collecting specimens of insects, plants, etc. Those ships were not comfortable Lindblad expeditions ships with lovely wines and cheeses. I am always impressed with how many people, mostly men, who explored this world in the 1800’s who made discoveries now named after them, even the lovely California poppy and the buttercup you photographed!

    Dianne Lethcoe

    January 12, 2018 at 7:08 AM

    • For all his adventuring, or perhaps in part because of it, von Eschscholtz lived to be only 37. As you say, he must have endured many hardships on the ships he sailed on and in the places he went out collecting.

      I noticed the ship he sailed on during his first expedition was the Rurik. I looked up that name and learned that Rurik was “a Viking leader who founded the Russian monarchy. He gained control over Novgorod in around 862 and his dynasty, the Rurikids, ruled until 1598.”

      Most people don’t know about the historic Viking “collusion” in what is now Russia’s European part. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

      “Originally, the name Rus’ (Русь) referred to the people, regions, and medieval states (ninth to twelfth centuries) of the Kievan Rus’. In the Western culture, it is better known as Ruthenia from the eleventh century onwards. Its territories are today distributed among Belarus, Ukraine, and a part of the European section of Russia.

      “One of the earliest written sources mentioning the people called Rus’ (as Rhos) dates to 839 in the Annales Bertiniani. This chronicle identifies them as a Germanic tribe called the Swedes. According to the Kievan Rus’ Primary Chronicle, compiled in about 1113, the Rus’ were a group of Varangians, Norsemen who had relocated somewhere from the Baltic region (literally “from beyond the sea”), first to Northeastern Europe, then to the south where they created the medieval Kievan state.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2018 at 7:52 AM

    • And speaking of boats, here’s more from Wikipedia, this time from the article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rus%27_(name):

      “According to the most prominent theory, the name Rus’, like the Finnish name for Sweden (Ruotsi), is derived from an Old Norse term for ‘the men who row’ (rods-) as rowing was the main method of navigating the rivers of Eastern Europe, and that it could be linked to the Swedish coastal area of Roslagen (the rowing crews) or Roden, as it was known in earlier times. The name Rus’ would then have the same origin as the Finnish, Estonian, Võro and Northern Sami names for Sweden: Ruotsi, Rootsi, Roodsi and Ruoŧŧa. It is remarkable enough that the local Finnic and Permic peoples in northern Russia proper use the same (Rus’-related) name both for Sweden and Russia (depending on the language): thus the Veps name for Sweden and Swedish is Ročinma / Ročin, while in the neighboring Komi language the etymologically corresponding term Ročmu / Roč means already Russia and Russian instead.”

      Yup, definitely collusion.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2018 at 8:07 AM

  2. That bit of reflection on the petal’s a sure sign of a buttercup, too. The petals often remind me of yellow patent leather. Granted, I’ve never seen yellow patent leather, but if it existed, I think it would resemble the buttercup.

    This one is remarkably similar to montucky’s buttercups: Ranunculus glaberrimus, or the sagebrush buttercup. I suspect it will be a while before they show up on his Buttercup Ridge.


    January 12, 2018 at 8:45 AM

    • It was that very shininess that clued me in to this being a buttercup.

      Your remark about being reminded of yellow patent leather even though you’ve never seen any called to mind a line from Pride and Prejudice, in which the haughty Lady Catherine says: “There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

      It seems that every state in the lower 48 has at least one species of Ranunculus:


      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2018 at 8:59 AM

  3. I see Dianne Lethcoe’s comment mentioned the California poppy, and when I first saw the tiny thumbnail picture, before I opened up the post, I thought the buttercup looked a bit like a California poppy. Eschscholtz certainly led an interesting, even if too short, life.

    Robert Parker

    January 12, 2018 at 8:58 AM

    • The “California” poppy is also native in El Paso, in far west Texas. Still, I’m not sure I’ve seen one. Its scientific name was the first place I’d ever come across a reference to von Eschscholtz. I had no idea who he was till I looked him up for this post. I once thought of doing an article about people who accomplished a lot but died before reaching the age of 40.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2018 at 9:10 AM

  4. Well researched to find the species of this buttercup! As a photo it’s really beautiful. I love how you used the light to create a feeling of depth inside the petals.

    Otto von Münchow

    January 12, 2018 at 5:41 PM

    • Thanks for appreciating that and pointing it out. I’d thought of using the term gialloscuro to describe this photograph, after the model of chiaroscuro, with the Italian word for yellow, giallo, replacing chiaro, the word for light or bright.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2018 at 9:21 PM

  5. Fascinating – that photo says “Buttercup” loud and clear, but then there are those differences…and what fun to read about Eschscholtz – I love reading about plant explorers and naturalists, especially from a century or two ago. I should have known about Eschscholtz since he was so active in the Pacific, but I didn’t, so thanks!


    January 14, 2018 at 12:27 PM

    • You’re welcome. I hadn’t known about him, either, so I was glad to learn. History is such a dense net that many things don’t make it through to us. We know nothing of almost everyone who ever lived.

      Back to botany: yes, this says “buttercup” loud and clear—or at least clear.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2018 at 12:44 PM

  6. The poor island! We’ve sure stomped all over this gorgeous planet with army boots. At least they changed the name so his name is not associated with destruction. I do love to learn about botanists. What adventures they had, and still have.


    February 3, 2018 at 9:17 AM

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