How to Plant & Grow Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis)

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water crowfoot ranunculus aquatilis blooming in a pond
Water crowfoot grows entirely submerged except for its flowers. Photo by Rasbak, CC BY-SA 3.0

An aquatic flowering plant, Ranuculus aquatilis is known by several common names, including common water crowfoot, white water crowfoot, and simply water crowfoot. This species is in the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family, members of which can be found essentially worldwide. “Rana” is Latin for “frog,” and references the aquatic nature of many Ranunculus species. Common water crowfoot specifically is native to most of Europe and western North America (from southern California all the way up to British Columbia and Alaska), as well as parts of northwest Africa.

Water crowfoot produces white flowers with yellow centers, which often appear just above the surface of the water. Unlike a “classic” buttercup, water crowfoot is an aquatic plant, requiring significant amounts of water. The aquatic nature of this plant can sometimes make it difficult to identify, as for the most part it is only the flowers of the water crowfoot that emerge from the water’s surface. When it is not in bloom, common water crowfoot can be easily mistaken for yellow water crowfoot (Ranunculus flabellaris).

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Water Crowfoot

how to grow water crowfoot in ponds
Submerged and floating leaves provide habitat for fish and aquatic invertebrates, while the flowers attract pollinators. © Hans Hillewaert

Water crowfoot is a true aquatic plant, making it a great addition to many ponds. This plant grows in mats just under the surface of the water. Due to this, water crowfoot can create important shade and protective cover for fish and invertebrates living in the water below and around it. Some waterfowl use the fruit and foliage of this plant as a source of food. Water crowfoot is also a great oxygenator.

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Water Crowfoot Fact Sheet:
Herbaceous Aquatic Perennial
USDA 4 – 8
Full sun to partial shade
White with yellow centers
May – August (Late Spring-Summer)
Height up to 61cm (24 in.)
Submerge up to 60 cm (23.6 in.) for mature plants
pH 5.0 – 8.0

Water Crowfoot Growth, Hardiness & Climate

an island of ranunculus aquitilis growing in a lake
Water crowfoot can form floating islands, which can be trimmed and shaped somewhat. Photo by UuMUfQ, CC BY-SA 3.0

As suggested by its name, water crowfoot is an aquatic plant, and grows submerged in water.  A robust plant, water crowfoot does not typically need much care if grown in the right conditions. Water crowfoot plants tend to form dense mats at the surface of the water. It sometimes can be found growing at the margins of water instead of submerged, but this is typically due to variable water levels rather than the plant’s preference.

Water crowfoot typically flowers during the summer, producing five-petaled white blooms with yellow centers. These flowers appear just above the water line, creating a beautiful decorative element to the surfaces of ponds and water gardens. This plant does best in hardiness zones 4-8, and is winter-hardy in these areas.

How to Plant Water Crowfoot In Ponds

how to plant water crowfoot ranunculus aquatilis
Water crowfoot does best when planted in up to 2 feet of water, but can grow marginally if there’s enough moisture. Photo by Chmee2, CC BY 3.0

Water crowfoot tends to be an easy plant to care for, provided is has enough water and sunlight. In ponds with little or very loose sediment at the bottom, it may be best to plant water crowfoot in a basket. If you wish to plant water crowfoot directly into pond sediment, you will want to weigh the plant down. Oftentimes, water crowfoot is sold with a weight already attached, but a stone or planting basket will also get the job done.

As water crowfoot can spread through rhizomes, you can divide its roots to control spreading. Be sure to properly dispose of whatever you are not replanting and clean any trimmed or dropped foliage from your pond to encourage healthy water quality. Be careful when dividing water crowfoot roots, as this plant will output skin-irritating toxins when it experiences damage.

How to Care For Water Crowfoot

overgrowth of water crowfoot in a pond
Water crowfoot is a hardy grower, and may need to be thinned out every couple of years. Photo by PePeEfe, CC BY-SA 3.0

Water crowfoot is quite self-sufficient when planted in the right conditions. This species can thrive in both still and gently moving water, but rapid water flow will likely uproot it. Once established, this plant needs little maintenance. Seedlings should be kept moist. If you need to control the growth of your water crowfoot, you can divide the plant and either transplant or dispose of the remainder.

How to Winter Water Crowfoot

Water crowfoot is native to areas with cold winters and is able to survive winters up to hardiness zone 4. There is no need for any special treatment to prepare this species for the winter in its native zones. Keep in mind that water crowfoot is a perennial, so you should expect to see it in your pond for multiple years. However, this plant does not tend to be extremely long-lived.

Is Water Crowfoot Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

Water crowfoot can be invasive, especially outside of its native ranges. However, it is not considered to be an aggressive plant. Even so, keep in mind that it can often be difficult to control the spread of aquatic species such as this one. As always, carefully consider whether you want to introduce any non-native plants to your garden, and never introduce non-native plants to natural waterways or ecosystems.

Like all species in the Ranuculus genus, water crowfoot is toxic if eaten fresh. Water crowfoot has been known to irritate the skin and even cause blisters when crushed or broken parts of the plant are handled, so take care if you decide to grow this species. The source of this skin irritation is a chemical reaction within the plant. Ranuculus species contain ranunculin, which breaks down into a toxin called protoanemonium when the plant is wounded. This toxin causes rashes on the skin, as well as nausea, vomiting, and other unpleasant side effects when consumed.

Is Water Crowfoot Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

Water crowfoot is not edible. In fact, buttercup species such as water crowfoot have been known to poison livestock when they consume large amounts of it in the absence of other options. The good news is that these plants have a very unpleasant taste, so most animals avoid them entirely. Water crowfoot is a common pond plant and is not known to create any dangers for pond fish.

Where to Buy Water Crowfoot & Seeds? (UK & US)

Water crowfoot is easily obtained at plant nurseries throughout its native range. Elsewhere in the world, you will likely have to order it online if you are set on growing it in your own pond or garden. As always, please take care when selecting plants that are not native to your area.

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