Snow Buttercup – Ranunculus nivalis

Alaska Wildflowers | Yellow

The yellow-petaled flowers of the snow buttercup (Ranunculus nivalis) in Denali National Park in Alaska.

Snow buttercup

Ranunculus nivalis

Common Names

Renoncule nivale
snow buttercup
snow Crowfoot
snowy buttercup





Genus: Ranunculus
Family: Ranunculaceae
Order: Ranunculales

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

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Identification and Information

Ranunculus nivalis, a small, yellow-flowering perennial herb, grows from short rhizomes and slender, fibrous roots. The plant features aerial stems that arise from a short and fibrous caudex, standing erect at a height of 5-25 cm (commonly 10-20 cm). The reniform (kidney-shaped) basal leaves are deeply 3-parted and may be either persistent or deciduous. These leaves are petioled (stalked). While most of the leaves are basal, cauline leaves (those on the stem) are also often present, ranging from 1-3 per stem. These stem leaves are alternate and deeply lobed, with 3-5 lobes, but are smaller than the basal leaves.

The flowers are typically solitary, one per stem, although some plants may feature an inflorescence consisting of a 1 to 3-flowered terminal cyme. Each flower has a black hairy calyx with five green sepals. The dark hairs on the underside of the calyx differentiate it from Ranunculus eschscholtzii (mountain buttercup), which has glabrous sepals. The flower has 5 (sometimes 6) large obovate yellow petals. The petals are 6-8 mm long and 3-5 mm wide and are about twice as long as the sepals. The asexual flower has 40-50 greenish-yellow pistils and over 70 yellow stamens. When fruiting, the flower has numerous achenes, 1.5-2 mm long, in a cylindric to ovoid (egg-shaped) head.


For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

Most buttercups, including Ranunculus nivalis, are poisonous. I found no instances of traditional or modern uses.

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Distribution and Habitat

Ranunculus nivalis is widely distributed across northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Svalbard, Scandinavia, and Siberia. Isolated occurrences have also been recorded in central Europe and the northeastern United States, as noted in GBIF records.

This species primarily inhabits wet or dry alpine meadows but can also be found along streambanks and on scree slopes. It frequently occurs in areas near persisting snowbeds.


RankScientific name (common name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
   SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
      InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
            DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
               SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
                           FamilyRanunculaceae (buttercups, boutons d’or, crowfoot)
                              GenusRanunculus L. (renoncules, buttercup)
                                 SpeciesRanunculus nivalis L. (snow buttercup)

References and Further Reading


Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 34 (Mountain Buttercup)

Classification and Taxonomy

USDA (n.d.). Ranunculus inamoenus. United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from

ITIS (n.d.). Ranunculus inamoenus. Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from



Map and Distribution

GBIF (n.d.). Ranunculus inamoenus. GBIF. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from

Description and Information

Flora of North America (n.d.). Ranunculus nivalis. Flora of North America. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from

E-Flora BC (n.d.). Ranunculus nivalis. Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from

Dempster Country (n.d.). Ranunculus nivalis. Flora of Dempster Country. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from

Canadian Museum of Nature (n.d.). Ranunculus arcticus. Canadian Museum of Nature. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from

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