Beware of buttercups

Beware of buttercups

Buttercups are toxic to horses. Although I’ve taken care of my own horses for more than 15 years, I didn’t know that — despite the fact that our pastures have buttercups growing in them. Note: the photo for this post was taken in my hometown, but not where the horses graze.

Hold a buttercup flower under your chin. If your chin glows yellow, you love butter.

Childhood game

Although buttercups are lovely to look at, the leaves and stems contain ranunculin, a glycoside that forms the toxic blistering agent protoanemonin when the plant is chewed or crushed. This bitter-tasting oil irritates the lining of the horse’s mouth and digestive tract

Owners may notice blisters on the horse’s lips, swelling of facial tissue, excessive salivation, mild colic, and diarrhea that might contain blood. Decreased appetite and a slowed pulse may also be present. In severe cases, buttercup ingestion can lead to skin twitching, paralysis, convulsions, and death.

The good news is that most horses won’t eat buttercup unless they are deprived of other food sources — offering them hay or fresh pasture will keep them from eating it. The bad news is that buttercup is very hard to get rid of. The species spreads rapidly and is difficult to eradicate. Mowing your pasture helps, because buttercups spread by seed. Planting new grass in the fall can also help contain new growth as buttercup plants typically germinate in bare patches and have a hard time becoming established in taller vegetation.

We have a good growth of buttercup this year. Although it looks beautiful, it’s time to start planning on how best to get rid of it. Riding past a friend’s barn a few weeks ago, we saw her out in the field pulling up the buttercup plants (you should wear gloves if you do so as buttercups can cause dermatitis with contact) and she admitted how futile it was to attack them by hand as there are just so many of them.

Do you battle toxic plants in your pastures? Which ones? And how do you deal with them.

5 thoughts on “Beware of buttercups

  1. the KER article says some species of buttercups are toxic. I’m curious if that pertains to species in this area?

  2. Yes, they are. I passed Kate Wolfe’s barn when she was pulling them up in her field. You don’t want your horses eating them! Of course we have a huge number growing in our pastures.

  3. I call them marsh marigolds but I am very familiar with the plant. They are taking over my pasture. Pulling them is a mistake, as I sadly found out. Every bit of root that pops loose from the main stem of roots and stays in the ground makes a new plant. So if you pull one you may have 10 come back in its place. If you use pesticides you destroy the earth worms and good bacteria in the soil. I’m trying to get someone to come Bush hog before they go to seed. I really don’t know how to get rid of them.

  4. Oh, yes, I do tackle toxic plants in my pasture, in fact, for the last twenty four years, my work (volunteer) in environmental restoration has been almost ALL battling toxic plants. Tansy ragwort, Scotch broom (not as toxic as some but it will take over a pasture like THAT), ranunculus (Buttercup), bracken fern, ox eyed daisy, pigweed, knapweed, japanese knotweed (oh god is that stuff tenacious), you name it, I’ve tried to fight it. Even some clovers are toxic…as are trees such as red maple, black locust, yew, oleander and even some fruit trees except for apples and, I believe, pears.
    How to manage? Welllll, if you’re like me and have time on your hands, manual removal works for most species. But there are a few, for instance, both tansy ragwort and knotweeds of all sorts, are what is called “totipotent’. It means, ANY part of the plant, no matter how small…that little teeny bit of root that you left when you pulled it? can grow into a new plant. I’ve cleared my five acres of scotch broom by manually pulling it. Unfortunately, like many undesirable plants, the seeds can survive for…at last count in my experience, thirty years or more.

    Unless you want to spray Roundup…and these days, let’s NOT..herbicides ARE effective IF you follow the directions on the MSDS label to the letter, and clean up yourself and your equipment by the label’s directions afterwards. But you can’t use them more than once or twice without the weeds developing resistance.

    So what’s left other than manually pulling it (Google “Weed Wrench” to see the tool I use)
    is mowing.
    If you rotate your pastures…and one SHOULD, MOW it after you take the horses off. Yes, mow it. Because if you don’t, the grass doesn’t have a chance. It’s been eaten down to less than three inches and the horses didn’t touch the weeds, which can be a foot hight, so if you don’t cut them down, too, they’ll have a hell of a head start on the grass.

    Mowing, pulling, rotating and keeping the soil vegetated…that helps a LOT with managing weeds.

    There’s an excellent book out titled “Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence” (it may be Greener Grass, but I can’t remember) which is very good at telling you how to get the most out of what pasture you have, and how to treat it when there’s no horses on it.

  5. Ugh, yes, BINDWEED! The stuff is terrible. It is everywhere and it is IMPOSSIBLE to kill. And, yep, you leave anything in the ground and a billion new plants come springing up.
    My dad used 24D this year, which is an herbicide (highly toxic to grazers, so you can’t put horses on it after spraying. We don’t have any grazers on our pasture, so it’s not a big deal.)
    It worked like a charm, killing tons of bindweed and dandelions. However, everywhere a dandelion died, the grass died in a small circle around it. Also, once it washed into the ground, it has started effecting our trees and shrubs (which, where I live, are hard to grow so you keep everything alive that you can).
    *Frustrated Sigh* I think we are going to “paint” them next year. We’ll see what happens.

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