Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Marsh-marigold - Caltha palustris   L.
Members of Ranunculaceae:
Members of Caltha with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Ranunculales » Family Ranunculaceae
DistributionLimited to the northern Mountains. Currently known only from single sites in Alleghany, Ashe, and Watauga counties; historical from Avery County southward.

This is a Northern species, found widely across Canada, and south to NJ, PA, and IA, and south in the Appalachians to northwestern NC and adjacent TN.
AbundanceDeclining, and now very rare. In great danger of becoming extirpated in the next decade or two, as none of the sites is protected. The species is State listed as Endangered.
HabitatThis is an obligate wetland species of open habitats. North of the state, the species is often found in bogs, but in NC most records are from wet meadows and marshy places in pastures, especially along damp stream margins.
PhenologyBlooms from April to June, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is a species that resembles a large but odd buttercup (Ranunculus spp.), but is clearly in a different genus. It has a few large basal leaves on long petioles (6-10 inches), the blades being rounded to cordate, and roughly 4 inches wide and long, and quite shiny as well. The flowering stem has a few leaves along it, somewhat similar to but smaller than the basal ones, reaching about 1.5 feet high. There are usually several large bright yellow flowers at the tips of branches. Each flower has 5 (mostly, but up to 9) sepals, widely elliptic and rounded at the tips, with the spread flower averaging about 1.3 inches across, larger than in any buttercup; petals are absent. Normally, the species should be identifiable just from sizable shiny and rounded, heart-shaped leaf blades, growing in a wet meadow, wet pasture, or marsh edge. If seen in bloom, the bright yellow flowers can be seen from long distances; this is very important, as with all NC populations on private lands in wet meadows, you may have to search for this species through binoculars from roads, especially looking for the yellow flowers or rounded leaves. Normally, the species grows in clumps or patches, though in NC there are usually under about 20 individual plants in a patch. Biologists who are intentionally searching for it in the northern mountains are not likely to overlook it, but others who are not paying attention to look for the species in these few counties could easily assume the plant is a buttercup. Because it can occur in fairly common and man-created habitats, there is the potential a few undiscovered locations might still exist.
Taxonomic CommentsOver its very large range, several varieties have been described. The nominate one -- C. palustris var. palustris -- is present in NC.

Other Common Name(s)Yellow Marsh-marigold. Often written just as Marsh Marigold, but "marigold" is a name for species (genus Tagetes) in the composite family (Asteraceae), and thus a hyphen is needed.
State RankS1
Global RankG5
State Status[E]
US Status
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