Bermuda Buttercup

Feb 11, 2024

Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae) has become a tenacious and frustrating weed throughout California. From November through April, bright yellow flowers on leafless stalks and green shamrock-like leaves pop up in many of our landscapes. While it was brought from South Africa as an ornamental plant, it escaped cultivation on its route to being a chronic nuisance. It competes with other plants and is very difficult to control.

Bermuda buttercup develops from underground bulbs that produce a single vertical stem. A loose rosette of leaves will appear at soil level after the first rain. Small, whitish bulblets develop on the stem, and new bulbs form underground. Each plant can produce about a dozen small bulbs each year that easily detach from the plant and will increase the plant's spread quickly.

A couple of our favorite vertebrate pests (gophers and voles) consider oxalis bulbs to be a yummy food source and can spread the bulbs to new locations as they carry them back to their underground dens.

The best way to control Bermuda buttercup is to prevent its introduction into your garden. Don't move soil or plants from an infested site to another location that is free of the weed. Unfortunately, for many of us, it's too late for that tactic. So, what can we do when faced with the cheery yellow flowers popping up throughout the landscape?

Hand pulling can provide control if the entire plant is removed, including the underground rhizome and bulb. It's difficult to find all the bulbs without sifting the soil very carefully. Repeatedly removing the tops of the plants will eventually deplete the bulb's resources, but it can take years to be successful. It's important to remove the tops of the plants before they flower and form new bulbs.

It is difficult to smother Bermuda buttercup with thick mulch or even weed block cloth because it is a strong plant. If cardboard covered with a thick layer of mulch is used to try to smother the weed, continued vigilance in monitoring and pulling new growth will be needed in subsequent years. In one garden, weed cloth was laid under a brick walkway. The following winter, Bermuda buttercup pushed its way up through the weed cloth between the bricks. This made removing the plants even more difficult because the plants were being held in place by the weed cloth.

Several herbicides will effectively kill the tops of the plants, but will not kill the bulbs, so regrowth will occur.

Whatever method you choose to combat a Bermuda buttercup invasion, you will need to be persistent and prepared to continue in subsequent years.

For more information about managing Bermuda buttercup, see this web page:

Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County (SEH)


By Help Desk Team

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