Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 12:10 UK

Old age buttercups to offer clues

Dr John Warren with some creeping buttercups (picture: Aberystwyth University)
Dr John Warren only needs details about creeping buttercups

Scientists in Wales have launched a search for geriatric buttercups which they claim could help reveal the age of Britain's meadows.

The flower is thought to be able to survive for centuries and a spread of them could date a meadow, as rings denote the age of a tree.

Aberystwyth's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Ibers) is asking the public for help.

It wants details of creeping buttercups and the number of their petals.

There are three different species of the little yellow flower, but researchers only want details about those known as creeping buttercups.

Dr John Warren, of Ibers, said the plant reproduced "vegetatively", and by doing so lived for a long time.

He added: "However, as we all know as things grow old they tend not to work quite as well as when they were younger.

A creeping buttercup (picture: Aberystwyth University)
Find a field containing lots of flowering buttercups
Try to age the field by asking the farmer or landowner
Make sure you can identify the creeping buttercup
Look at 100 creeping buttercup flowers and count the number with more than five flowers

"Preliminary research has shown that old buttercups from older pastures are more likely to have extra petals than young buttercup in newly established fields.

"Therefore looking at the proportion of buttercups in a field with more than five petals may indicate the age of the field - ie tell us when it was last ploughed."

Dr Warren also gave advice about how to identify the creeping buttercup - the most common of three different species in Britain.

He said creeping buttercup leaves were in three parts with a short stalk connecting the middle section.

People who would like to help are asked to send the estimated age of the field, number of flowers with additional petals, the location and date to Dr John Warren at

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