protoanemonin

1. Meadow Buttercup - Ranunculus acris
2. Cursed Buttercup - Ranunculus lanuginosus (now Ranunculus sceleratus)

The buttercup or anemone (Ranunculus spp.) has a worldwide distribution. The meadow buttercup is probably native to Alaska and Greenland, but it has been a “weedy” plant in North America for as long as Europeans have recorded it. Even though it’s used as a folk medicine in many Native American tribes, the Iroquois are noted to have had issues with it invading squash fields back in the 1700s.

All buttercups have a toxin in them, called protoanemonin or ranunculol, which is activated when the plant is wounded or crushed (as it is in many folk medicines, or when eaten). While it’s not deadly, it causes itching and blisters on the exposed mucosa, and can cause dizziness, nausea, jaundice, and temporary paralysis when ingested.

The Cursed Buttercup has more of this toxin than any other member of the genus, to the point where it can cause rashes and blisters on the skin if you touch damaged leaves.

Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen.  Johann Georg Sturm, illustrated by Jacob Sturm, 1796.

death by buttercups? but why?

(undertale spoilers)

one of undertale’s many big unanswered questions: why would chara choose a slow and painful death over a plethora of easier options? it can be inferred from the game that death was a necessary part of chara’s plan. why did it have to be such a gruesome death, though? because there is no solid answer given in undertale, in this post i’ll speculate based on the facts.


INFORMATION ABOUT BUTTERCUPS

according to the wiki:

Poisoning can occur where buttercups are abundant in overgrazed fields where little other edible plant growth is left, and the animals eat them out of desperation. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, excessive salivation, colic, and severe blistering of the mouth, mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract.

according to softschools:

Some types of buttercups are incredible toxic and even simple touching of the plants leads to irritation and blistering of the skin.

according to rightdiagnosis:

The buttercup plant contains a toxic compound called protoanemonin. The plant is most toxic while it is flowering with the sap being poisonous portion of the plant. Poisoning by eating the plant is unlikely due to the fact that skin contact is quite painful.  

the symptoms of buttercup poisoning include:


BUTTERCUPS INSTEAD OF CUPS OF BUTTER

suffice to say, the symptoms sound horrifyingly painful. chara chose this despite having already seen the effects on asgore.

or maybe it’s more accurate to say they chose this in light of seeing the effects on asgore. immediately after asriel finishes recounting this story, it’s implied that chara told him to turn off the camera so they could tell him their plan.

the next time the camera is turned on, asriel expresses his dislike of chara’s idea.

perhaps through the use of manipulation tactics, chara eventually convinces asriel to “go get the flowers”.


WHY WAS IT NECESSARY FOR ASRIEL TO GET THE FLOWERS?

why couldn’t chara just get the buttercups on their own? 

the most obvious answer seems to be one of the symptoms caused by handling buttercups: blistering of the skin. asriel is covered in fur, so he’d be less likely to be affected by this, and even if he was, it wouldn’t be very noticeable. 

but this begs another question: why did chara care if their hands were blistered when they would ultimately have a lot worse issues to deal with? if chara just wanted to die because they were suicidal and that was it, why wouldn’t chara just find some flowers on their own?

well, what if chara wasn’t suicidal at all? it’s true that chara’s death was the result of a suicide, but that doesn’t mean chara necessarily wanted to stop living. after all, they didn’t jump into the underground – they fell. after they died, chara intended for asriel to absorb their soul. it was never chara’s desire to simply stop living, but to be reborn as part of something much stronger. the plan was always described as something that chara and asriel would do “together”. 

for one reason or another, chara may have wanted to keep the fact that their death was intentional a secret.

another reason chara may have asked asriel to get the flowers was to manipulate him into following through with the plan to kill the humans chara hated so much. @jazelock​ put it elegantly:

… my theory immediately upon watching that tape was that it was another manipulation tactic to prevent [Asriel] from backing out later. Psychologically, what you’d want to do to ensure cooperation from a reluctant participant in a plan of your devising is to make it seem as much the other participant’s idea as possible. So, make them be as active a player and give them what looks like as much agency as possible.

If Chara had picked the flowers themselves or simply asked Asriel to come along or picked them together with him, that makes Asriel still a tag-along-er. But by having Asriel go get the flowers himself, it means Chara makes him act out the part as if he’s independently helping of his own free will, without coercion. (Of course, this isn’t what’s actually going on; he is being coerced. But it’s the psychology of performing the action as if he has free will.) This way, Asriel would feel like it’s as much his plan as Chara’s, and therefore have more personal investment in ensuring it succeeds.

so making asriel get the buttercups would save chara’s hands from blisters while also causing asriel to feel directly responsible for their death. there’s also the chance that asriel had to feed the buttercups to chara himself, as chara wanted to avoid handling them.


WHY WOULD CHARA WANT TO KEEP THEIR SUICIDE A SECRET?

why else would chara refuse to irritate their hands if not to keep the fact that they had consumed buttercups a secret? in new home, the monsters never describe chara’s sudden illness as something intentional. this leads me to believe that all the monsters were none the wiser to chara’s plan.

what were the benefits in keeping it a secret from everybody but asriel? my belief is that, if chara could make it look like they died from natural causes, the monsters would be more sympathetic towards them. it would make the dreemurrs listen to chara’s final wish – a wish chara knew no monster could possibly grant. they asked “to see the flowers from their village”. this would give asriel the excuse he needed to absorb chara’s soul and leave the underground without having his motives questioned.


WHY DIDN’T ANYONE NOTICE THAT CHARA’S SYMPTOMS WERE SIMILAR TO ASGORE’S?

it’s very likely that asgore actually experienced completely different symptoms. while humans have physical bodies, monsters are made mostly of magic. it makes sense, as a result, that asgore may have become ill in a very different way. this also makes it possible that chara may have thought they were in for much more manageable symptoms.


A SLOW DEATH

besides looking like a natural death, the slow death caused by ingesting buttercups would give chara plenty of time for monsters to realise they were dying and for chara to share their last wish. 

as asriel’s act of getting the flowers was what caused chara to die, his guilt may have been what pushed him to continue on with the plan and absorb chara’s soul. had chara simply killed themself with the knife they apparently had access to, it’s likely that asriel wouldn’t have felt responsible enough to justify absorbing chara’s soul and hurting humans. if it a was quick and relatively painless death, asriel wouldn’t have been given enough time to dwell on it. how could asriel say no to their dying best friend?

the death itself must have been horrific. chara was confined to their bed and the game suggests that they died there.

it seems that chara’s mouth and throat would have been blistered. they would have thrown up often and had bloody diarrhea. they would have suffered unbearable cramps and pains until their kidneys began to fail. all this, while stuck in their bed. toriel and asgore would likely have had to clean all this up over and over throughout the course of the day that chara suffered in this way. asriel, too, had to watch his best friend and adoptive sibling die in a way that monsters could probably never imagine. monsters don’t bleed or use the bathroom.


TO SUMMARISE THE SPECULATION

  • although chara may have been suicidal, that is not necessarily the case
  • chara didn’t want to stop existing, they just wanted a stronger body that could destroy humans
  • it’s possible that chara’s symptoms and asgore’s symptoms were very different as human bodies are physical and monster bodies are magical
  • chara needed asriel to feel involved in the plan
  • they probably knew an easier death would be too impersonal for asriel 
  • since asriel got the flowers, he probably felt responsible for chara’s suffering
  • the guilt asriel felt as a result probably drove him to go through with the plan to absorb chara’s soul
  • perhaps chara wanted their death to look like a natural one so that their plan couldn’t be discovered by the monsters
  • the time it took for chara to die would only serve to increase asriel’s guilt 
  • asriel probably couldn’t say no to their dying best friend

as it turns out, a death by buttercup poisoning may have been the perfect cover for chara’s plan.

3

Caltha leptosepala is in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. Commonly known as Marsh Marigold, it is native to the western United States. Marsh Marigold is an herbaceous perennial species found in alpine and subalpine mountainous regions, most often in wetlands and open meadows. As snow begins to melt, Marsh Marigolds can be found blooming along the edge of the snowbank. It has been reported that the roots, flower buds, and new leaves are edible after being cooked, but this should only be done in survival situations as Marsh Marigold contains the toxic compound protoanemonin which can cause vomiting and paralysis.