Chelidonium majus: Ultimate Greater Celandine Care Guide



Chelidonium majus, commonly known as greater celandine in the USA, is a perennial herbaceous plant native to Europe and the Middle East. It is also known regionally as tetterwort, swallowwort, and nipplewort among other names. This plant is recognized for its distinctive yellow flowers and its historical use in traditional medicine. Greater celandine has a complex profile: it is valued for its ornamental and medicinal properties but is also considered invasive in some regions due to its prolific self-seeding and potential to outcompete native flora.


  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Tracheophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Ranunculales
  • Family: Papaveraceae
  • Genus: Chelidonium
  • Species: Chelidonium majus


Chelidonium majus is a herbaceous plant that typically grows to a height of 30 to 120 cm. It is known for its pinnate leaves and bright yellow latex, which is visible when any part of the plant is broken. The latex has been used historically for its purported medicinal properties. Greater celandine is primarily known for its ornamental value in gardens due to its attractive foliage and flowers. However, it also holds interest for hobbyists and herbalists for its historical medicinal uses. It is not typically cultivated for commercial agricultural purposes. In some areas, Chelidonium majus is considered invasive, as it can spread rapidly and may disrupt local ecosystems.


Chelidonium majus typically reaches a height of 30 to 120 cm, with a general growth rate of a few centimeters per month during the growing season. The plant has a rhizomatous root system that can spread and give rise to new shoots, contributing to its invasive potential. The roots are not known to cause significant problems, but their ability to spread can make the plant difficult to eradicate once established.


The leaves of Chelidonium majus are pinnate with lobed margins, creating an almost feather-like appearance. They are typically bluish-green and can grow up to 30 cm in length. Botanically speaking, the leaves are alternate and deeply divided with crenate to dentate margins. The foliage exudes a characteristic yellow-orange latex when damaged.


Chelidonium majus produces small, four-petaled yellow flowers that measure approximately 1 cm in diameter. These flowers bloom from late spring to early fall, with peak flowering occurring in May and June. The inflorescences are umbelliform cymes, and the plant is known for its long flowering period.


The fruit of Chelidonium majus is a slender, dehiscent capsule containing numerous small black seeds. The capsules are elongated and can reach up to 5 cm in length. The seeds are dispersed by ants, a process known as myrmecochory, which contributes to the plant’s spread.

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The stem of Chelidonium majus is erect, branched, and slightly hairy. It contains the same yellow-orange latex found in the leaves and is typically light green to reddish in color.

Cultivation and Care

Greater celandine thrives with minimal care, making it an easy plant for beginners. However, due to its invasive nature, it should be managed carefully to prevent unwanted spread.


To plant Chelidonium majus, select a location with well-draining soil. Sow seeds in early spring or autumn, covering them lightly with soil. The plant can also be propagated by dividing the roots in the spring or fall.

Soil Preference

Chelidonium majus is not particularly fussy about soil type but prefers a well-draining loam. It can tolerate a range of soil pH from slightly acidic to neutral to slightly alkaline.


This plant prefers consistent moisture but can tolerate periods of dryness once established. A general watering schedule involves providing water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.

Sun Requirements

Greater celandine performs best in full sun to partial shade. It can be planted in garden beds, borders, or as an understory plant in woodland gardens, taking into account its potential to spread.


Pruning is not typically necessary for Chelidonium majus, but it can be cut back to control growth or remove unsightly or dead foliage. Use clean, sharp pruning shears to make cuts, and consider wearing gloves to avoid contact with the latex.


Propagation can be achieved by seed, division, or root cuttings. To propagate by division, carefully dig up the plant, separate the root clumps, and replant them in the desired location.

Health & Safety

All parts of Chelidonium majus contain alkaloids that can be toxic if ingested in large quantities. The latex can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals. It is advisable to keep this plant out of reach of children, dogs, and cats. The plant is not thorny or spiky, but the latex can cause contact dermatitis.

Pests and Problems

Chelidonium majus is relatively resistant to pests, but it can occasionally be affected by aphids (Aphidoidea) and spider mites (Tetranychidae). These pests suck sap from the leaves, causing yellowing and distortion. Treatment can involve hosing off the pests with water or using insecticidal soap. The plant may also suffer from rust and powdery mildew, which can be managed with proper air circulation and fungicides if necessary.

General Information

Plant Name:Chelidonium majus
Etymology:Chelidonium: Derived from the Greek “chelidon,” meaning “swallow (bird),” as it was believed the flower bloomed when swallows returned and faded when they left.
Majus: Latin for “greater,” indicating a larger species among its relatives.
Common Name:Greater celandine
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Plant Characteristics

Height:0.3-1.2 meters, 1-4 feet
Width and Spread:Width: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches)
Spread: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches)
Plant Type:Perennial
Habit/Form:Growth Habit: Herbaceous
Growth Form: Perennial
Leaf Type:Pinnately divided with lobed and crenate margins.
Leaf Arrangement:Alternate
Leaf Shape:Pinnatifid
Leaf Margin:Serrated
Leaf Color:Green
Fragrance:Not documented
Stem Description:Hollow, branched, hairy
Stem Is Aromatic:No
Texture:Papaveraceous, herbaceous
Leaf Feel:Papery, slightly hairy
Leaf Length:5-30 cm
Leaf Description:Simple, pinnately lobed to divided, up to 30 cm long, glaucous, alternate, with crenate to dentate margins.
Hairs Present:Yes


Light Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Soil Preference:pH: 6.0-7.5
Texture: Loamy, well-drained
Moisture: Medium
Nutrient Requirements: Moderate
Water Requirements:Medium
Fertilizer Requirements:NPK Type: Balanced (e.g., 10-10-10)
Frequency: Every 4-6 weeks during the growing season
Timing: Spring through summer
Pruning Requirements:Prune after flowering to prevent self-seeding.
Seed Germination Time:5-20 days
Display/Harvest Time:May to September
Fruit/Seed Production:Fruit production: Capsule
Seed production: Numerous small seeds
Growth Rate:Fast
Growth Habit:Perennial herb
Root System Type:Taproot system

Flower and Fruit Information

Fruit Type:Capsule
Fruit Description:Capsule, elongated, dehiscent with two valves, containing numerous small black seeds.
Flower Color:Yellow
Flower Shape:Papaveraceous
Flower Inflorescence:Umbelliform cyme
Flowering Season:Spring to fall
Bloom Duration:1-2 months

Tolerance and Hardiness

Drought Tolerance:Not documented
Frost Tolerance:-5°C to -10°C
Heat Tolerance:Not documented
Wind Tolerance:Not documented
Shade Tolerance:Intermediate
Salt Tolerance:Not documented
Soil Compaction Tolerance:Low
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones:5-8
Photoperiod Sensitivity:Short Day Plant

Wildlife and Landscape

Pollinator Attraction:Yes. Bees, flies.
Wildlife Value:Nectar source for insects; larval host for some butterfly and moth species.
Problematic Insects:Aphids, Slugs, Snails
Allelopathic Properties:Yes
Habitat Enhancement:Allelopathic properties, releasing biochemicals that inhibit the growth of surrounding plants; Nitrogen accumulation, improving soil fertility; Attracts pollinators, supporting local pollination networks.
Erosion Control Potential:Low
Landscape Location:Woodlands, hedgerows, waste places, and garden peripheries.
Landscape Theme:1. Cottage garden
2. Medicinal herb garden
3. Woodland edge
4. Wildlife garden
Design Feature:Not documented
Ethnobotanical Significance:Papaveraceae family; traditional medicine for warts, antispasmodic, antimicrobial; contains alkaloids such as chelidonine.
Naturalization Ability:High
Companion Planting Suitability:Companion Plants: Alliums, Brassicas, Carrots, Lettuce
Allelopathic Interactions: Not documented
Beneficial Attributes: Attracts pollinators, Suppresses weeds
Detrimental Attributes: Potential allelopathic effects on certain plants, Contains toxic alkaloids
Optimal Spacing: 30 cm apart
Soil pH: 6.0 – 7.0

Health and Safety

Edible Parts:Leaves, flower buds, and latex (with caution due to toxicity).
Poison Parts of Plant:All parts
Toxic to Humans:Yes
Toxic to Cats:Yes
Toxic to Dogs:Yes
Causes Contact Dermatitis:Yes
Air Purification Qualities:Not documented
Medicinal Properties:Antispasmodic, diuretic, sedative, cholagogue, antimicrobial, antiviral, anticancer.
Thorniness or Spikiness:No
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