March 12 2019 09:53 AM

The invasive fig buttercup overwhelms native plants wherever it is found.

Fig buttercup
Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

It’s really quite beautiful, this plant with its lovely heart-shaped, dark green leaves and bright, shiny yellow flowers. But though it may be hard to believe, this sweet-looking, seemingly innocent plant is actually a serial killer, one that smothers all the other native plants in its path. It’s an invasive species called fig buttercup, and it’s spreading around South Carolina, according to a story published on the WSPA News 7 (Spartanburg) website.

And, just as with any fugitive from justice, officials there are asking for the public’s help. Should you spot this pretty predator, the Department of Plant Industry at Clemson University would like to hear from you. The DPI isn’t just an academic entity, it has the job of protecting the state from invasive species like the fig buttercup.

It’s been found along tributaries of the Reedy River in Greenville and the Catawba River in Rock Hill.

Fig buttercup isn’t just found in South Carolina. It currently grows in 20 northeastern states, in Oregon, Washington and several Canadian provinces. It likes moist, forested floodplains and other wet areas where it threatens native spring-flowering plants. Landscapers in those states can help by keeping their eyes open for any outgrowths and reporting it to the appropriate authorities.

“This is a bad plant,” says the DPI’s Sherry Aultman. “It has become a more aggressive pest in our state and is now regulated by law. That’s why we’re reaching out and trying to teach people in affected areas to recognize it and report it. We want to stop it in its tracks and with assistance from the South Carolina Native Plant Society do what we can to eliminate it.”

The fig buttercup’s flowers start blooming in March and stick around for about six weeks. To tell it from native buttercups, look for this distinguishing mark: the undersides of its leaves look like lizard skin. This buttercup also doesn’t display the traditional “cup” that gives other buttercup flowers their name.

If you’ve spotted fig buttercup growing anywhere in South Carolina, you’re asked to report it online by emailing invasives@clemson.edu or by calling DPI at 864-646-2140.