Producers Beware of this Toxic Weed



Buttercups, Tennessee lawn

​Buttercups are found growing throughout the state in pastures, fields, lawns and along roadsides. Many do not realize the pretty weed can be toxic to livestock. Photo by P. McDaniels, courtesy UTIA.


Green is the color usually associated with spring. Although for many who own or tend pastures, spring brings lots of unwanted yellow, too. That pretty but undesirable yellow belongs to the flowers of the weeds commonly called buttercups.
In Tennessee, there are two especially pesky species of buttercup, says Neil Rhodes, Jr., University of Tennessee professor and Extension weed management specialist. They are the hairy buttercup and the bulbous buttercup. These two species are very similar in appearance. They both produce the unmistakable, small, single yellow flowers in the spring. The flowers, whose stems can reach nearly two feet in length, spring from the leafy, hairy three-lobed rosettes that comprise the weed.
Buttercups can be found throughout the state, says Rhodes. “They can be found in pastures, hay fields, roadsides and marginal areas.” Rhodes further warns, “Even just a few mature buttercups growing in a field or brought in from hay bales can provide seed for hundreds of plants the following year.” These weeds will compete with desired grasses and if left unchecked, they will begin to spread rapidly. 
Not only can these weeds spread rapidly, they are mildly toxic and should not be consumed by livestock. Rhodes says that cattle will generally avoid eating buttercups, but if better grasses are in short supply, they may resort to consuming the weeds. If consumed, it can cause oral and gastrointestinal irritation. 
“Prevention is a crucial component in the management of pasture and hay fields,” Rhodes suggests. With buttercups, unfortunately, that usually means having to apply herbicides to your fields. Be sure to thoroughly read the herbicide label and follow all directions and precautions. Rhodes also suggests the Extension resource for more information. 
For more information about buttercups or other weeds, go online to and search “weeds,” or contact your local county UT Extension office. The publication Pasture Weed Fact Sheet: Buttercups (W 323) can be viewed directly at
UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issue at the local, state and national levels.

The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.

Dr. G. Neil Rhodes, Professor of Plant Sciences and UT Extension Weed Management Specialist, 865-974-7324,