Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Allison Price
Buttercup (Ranunculus spp. Horses that eat this bright yellow perennial, biennial or annual flower can have serious health problems. Ranunculin is a glycoside found in many buttercup species that forms protoanemonin from the plant’s leaves and stems. The horse’s digestive tract and mouth are irritated by this bitter-tasting oil. The horse may develop blisters on its lips and skin, as well as excessive salivation and mild colic. A slow pulse and decreased appetite may also be signs. Buttercup ingestion can cause severe skin reactions, including paralysis, convulsions, and even death. Postmortem examinations of affected horses may reveal hemorhaging and congestion in their lungs. The toxin can also be transmitted to cattle, goats, and even pigs.
You can find buttercups all over North America. Buttercups thrive in moist soils, and they can also grow well in clay, sand and gravel. Buttercup can be found in woody areas, swampy meadows, ditch banks, and marshes as well as pastures. Buttercup is rare to be found on well-drained, light soil.
Horses are able to avoid the bitter leaves but may consume them if they are left on pasture with no other forage. Buttercups can be found in areas where they aren’t usually common. In addition, excessively wet weather may encourage the growth of buttercups. Because the plant is not easily avoided by livestock, accidental ingestion could occur. Cool, wet conditions encourage the growth of cool-season forages. Horses should be able find sufficient nourishment unless pastures have been severely overgrazed.
Toxicity can vary depending on the plant’s age, growth conditions, and freshness. The most hazardous stage for plants is the early stages of growth, which runs through the flowering stage. Dried buttercup leaves in hay are not considered to be dangerous because the toxic oil evaporates quickly once the plants have been cut. Hay may contain buttercup seeds, which can be thrown to the ground and allow the plants to establish themselves in new locations.
The genus Ranunculus contains approximately 2000 species. More than 20 of these are found in North America. Some plants are more upright than others, while others reach two feet or higher. Regular or irregularly shaped flowers can be found in buttercups. They have three to fifteen petals and zero to 23 actual flowers. Most flowers are bright yellow, with a waxy appearance. However, some flowers may be red, orange or white with yellow center. The stems are usually hairless, and the leaves are often divided into three lobes. While some buttercup species don’t look like the yellow-flowered varieties, others are harmless weeds that have a similar appearance. If horse owners are unsure how to identify buttercup in their fields, they should consult the local agricultural extension agent. Buttercup can also be controlled by spraying or tillage. Buttercups can spread to over 40 feet in one year if they are not controlled. The soil is also less fertile for potassium due to creeping buttercup.
Sometimes, cattle and other livestock develop a taste or inclination to buttercup. They may choose it over other forage. It is safer to maintain a healthy buttercup population on grazed pastures. A sound pasture management program can help farm managers prevent the invasion of potentially dangerous plants. Regular soil testing, liming and fertilization can help ensure healthy growth of legumes and grasses. This is combined with good grazing management.