Ranunculus hortensis

Georg Dionysius Ehret1732

Oak Spring Garden Foundation

Oak Spring Garden Foundation

Famous wildflowers such as Buttercups, Crowfoot, and Lesser Celandine are dappled across meadows and forests around the world. As beautiful as they are when in the context of their native habitat, most of these wildflowers are, according to the New York Botanical Garden’s Encyclopedia of Horticulture, without “garden merit” because of their association with weeds and their uncurated appearance. But the few species of Ranunculus that are suitable for horticulture are described to have “considerable charm,” enough to draw the eye of world-renowned botanical painter, Georg Dionysius Ehret.

Today, many gardens are host to Ranunculus asiaticus, a handsome species native to
southeast Europe also known as Persian or Turban ranunculuses, that have unquestionable “garden merit.” This painting by Ehret illustrates an ideal specimen of Ranunculus, a frequently mottled variety that is double-flowered, meaning that instead of having the five petals typical of wild species--think of your common backyard buttercups--the blossoms can have hundreds of individual petals.

Ranunculus hortensis, the title of this piece given by Ehret, is an antiquated classification of the flower and has been reidentified since 1762. most likely as one of the many variants of R. asiaticus. The multiplicity of petals, the outward transition from a deep garnet to the cream color on the perimeter of the flower, and the streaks of red on the rim of the petals, all epitomize florists’ and gardener’s ideal of Ranunculus. Ehret’s many illustrations of Ranunculus have influenced botanists and artists’ analysis of the flower, and may have even influenced the genetic development of new flowers, by breeding species with the aspiration of achieving the beauty shown in Ehret’s Ranunculus hortensis.

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