As creeping buttercup primarily reproduces by sending out creeping runners, a meadow of hundreds of buttercup flowers can be made or just a few plants. This means that each new plant created by this vegetative reproduction carries identical genes to the parent plant. Over time some of these genes begin to mutate (somatic mutation), resulting in flowers with an extra petal.
A 2011 study found that each plant that flowers with additional petals in a sample of 100 plants was found to equate to approximately 7 years. Therefore a meadow with a known age of around 100 years could be expected to contain about 14 flowers with these extra petals. This method works well in estimating meadows up to 200 years old.
But this isn't the end of the wonders of the buttercup, as research published in 2011 goes to show. A research team look in to the 'directional scatter' from the buttercup flower. This directional scatter is often used by children holding a buttercup under a friend's chin to see if they like butter.
|Directional scatter, as displayed by my beautiful assistant.|
So the next time you're in a field playing the game to find out who likes butter, remember is has nothing to do with whether you like butter. Instead it is all to do with the biology of the buttercup and the lengths it will go to attract potential pollinators! Oh, and while you're there you may as well check for some 6 petalled buttercup flowers - perhaps they might become the new 4 leaf clover.
Warren J. (2009). Extra petals in the buttercup (Ranunculus repens) provide a quick method to estimate the age of meadows., Annals of botany, PMID: 19491088
Vignolini S., Thomas M.M., Kolle M., Wenzel T., Rowland A., Rudall P.J., Baumberg J.J., Glover B.J. & Steiner U. (2011). Directional scattering from the glossy flower of Ranunculus: how the buttercup lights up your chin., Journal of the Royal Society, Interface / the Royal Society, PMID: 22171065
Carotinoids and Related Pigments