• Key characteristics
  • Biology
  • Impacts
  • Control
  • Further information

  • Annual buttercup with stout, erect flowering stems up to 45 cm tall
  • Typical yellow buttercup flowers, up to 25 mm across, with sepals (the tiny green leaf-like structures just below the petals) that curl downwards when the flower opens. Sepals of creeping buttercup and giant buttercup remain parallel to the petals
  • Leaves, leaf stalks and stems are hairy
  • Leaf shape can be variable but the leaves are usually split into three leaflets. Leaflets may be separate and stalked or connected by leaf tissue
  • Leaves are shiny when young, becoming duller with age
  • Unlike perennial buttercups this species does not have stolons. Note however, that the stolons of creeping buttercup die back in winter so cannot be used as a diagnostic character at that time.

Other similar species

  • Several other species of buttercups have similar large, yellow flowers with five petals
  • Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) also has leaves that split into three leaflets, but the three leaflets are quite separate. Leaves also often have a whitish blotch in the middle. When flowering its sepals remain parallel to the petals, unlike those in hairy buttercup. Creeping buttercup is usually shorter than hairy buttercup and it is more difficult to distinguish separate plants as it often forms dense patches
  • Giant buttercup (Ranunculus acris) sometimes has leaves deeply divided into three but this is uncommon. They are more commonly deeply divided into three to seven lobes. Sepals remain parallel to the petals, unlike hairy buttercup. As per its name, giant buttercup is usually taller than the other buttercups
  • Celery-leaved buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus) is less common in pastures but can be found beside ponded water and in drains. This is a tall growing buttercup with many branches. It is characterised by its leaves which resemble those of the celery plant. Celery-leaved buttercup is considered to be poisonous to livestock
  • Bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) is similar but has bulbous corms at the base of the stem, its achenes are smooth-faced (as opposed to bearing blunt tubercles), and its petals are darker yellow.





  • Hairy buttercup originated in Europe, and was first recorded in New Zealand in 1878
  • It is reported as ‘declining’ in Britain, due to more intensive agriculture
  • Introduced, probably accidentally, to many parts of the world including Australia and the United States
  • Common or abundant in dairy pastures, drains, stream sides, roadsides, waste land and dumps throughout the North Island and in the South Island in Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago.

Life cycle

  • Seeds tend to germinate in less-dense pastures in autumn. Seedlings grow through winter then flower and fruit in spring and summer, releasing large numbers of seeds into the soil before dying
  • Seeds germinate quickly and their relatively large size ensures that the young plants rapidly develop roots and grow vigorously.


  • Although this species has a high mineral content, with higher levels of copper and zinc than ryegrass or clover, cattle rarely eat it because of the mildly poisonous nature of the leaves. Sheep, on the other hand, seem to eat it readily.

Impact on pasture

  • Hairy buttercup is a major problem in autumn-sown pasture because it establishes at the same time as the sown species. It interferes with the productivity of grasses and clovers, can be unpalatable to dairy cows and pastures can look very untidy over winter and early spring.

Impact on livestock

  • Hairy buttercup is not considered poisonous to livestock but because dairy cows tend to avoid it and prefer to graze grasses and clovers, it can become dominant in the pasture.

Grazing management

  • A dense competitive pasture in the autumn is the best way to deal with many weedy species. This is achieved by sowing grass and clover species suited to the local environment, using appropriate fertilisers and adopting good grazing practices.

Chemical control

  • MCPB is an effective herbicide for controlling hairy buttercup in new pastures, as it does not damage clovers
  • Flumetsulam is also used to control it selectively
  • Thifensulfuron will also control it but this herbicide is more severe on clovers than either MCPB or flumetsulam.