Botanical issues: species... and hybrids/variations?

Forgive the language since I’m not a botanist.
I was observing ranunculaceae (Ranunculus) in my place and I have developed the impression that there is a full range of plants, growing side to side, whose leaves seem to have a look that spans from one species to another one.
I wonder if you can help to elaborate. Or am I just wrong? Is a species supposed to be stable and not generate hybrids or not? And at that point how is a botanical species defined?
Also interesting for me for the concept of identification. Having hard time with Dryopteris affinis subspecies currently as well
Please suggest.

It depends on the species in question, but hybrids are actually pretty common in biology. The species need to be closely related, and the hybrids may not be fertile (although they can be), but it’s not at all uncommon.

Defining a species by its ability, or lack thereof, to reproduce with others hasn’t been used as a species definition for a long time because there are far too many exceptions to that rule. Unfortunately, it’s still a definition that’s taught all the way up to undergrad level.

There isn’t really a single 100% agreed upon definition of how to classify something as a species because there are exceptions to pretty much every proposed definition.

Here is a decent overview of the problems faced in defining and discussing species: - soft paywall


As far as I know no hybrids are reported for the species you are referring to so I would say it is simply a case of morphological similarity that among certain species of buttercup is particularly high and this is not the only one case. Think about Rosa section Caninae, Melilotus, Narcissus, Lysimachia (ex Anagallis), the agamospecies in Alchemilla, Taraxacum, Hieracium and so on…


good to know@blue_celery - you know, the Ranunculus of my obs we debated about is one of them.
I asked because some features which, in the species descriptions (such as dark spots, light spots etc) are advertised as specific seem to span around.

- please forget the first and last pictures which are obviously not related.
For Dryopteris the same, I do not have a collage yet, but I will make it as soon as I can.

Dark spots (but also whitish spots) on basal leaves are not specific of just one species. As far as I can remember, they can be found on the leaves of, at least, two of the three most common perennial Ranunculus species of central Italy (R. lanuginosus and R. velutinus) but they are possibly present also in other species.


Thanks. Look forward to the flowering season to clear up my doubts. Provided that flowers help to solve the mistery :)

flowers (or better sepals during flowering) and fruits, not only flowers


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