Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa

Status Green - Least concern
Best Time to See March, April, May
Habitat Woodland

One of the first flowers of spring, wood anemones bloom like a galaxy of stars across the forest floor.

As a species it's surprisingly slow to spread (six feet in a hundred years!), relying on the growth of its root structure rather than the spread of its seed. As such, it is a good indicator of ancient woodland.

How to spot it

Solitary star-like white flowers with 5-8 petals, often pinkish underneath. Long-stalked stem leaves divided into three lobes, with each lobe divided. (Source: the National Plant Monitoring Scheme Species Identification Guide).

Colonies of wood anemones with purple or purple-streaked petals are frequent e.g. in Norfolk, but the sky-blue type (var. caerulea) is much rarer or possibly lost. It was a favourite of William Robinson, the 19th century pioneer of 'wild gardening' who carefully distinguished it from the occasionally naturalised European blue anemone.

Where it grows

Deciduous woodlands, particularly ancient ones. Also hedges and shaded banks. In the Yorkshire dales it is frequently found in limestone pavements. In many places the colonies could be relics of previous woodland cover, but its liking for light (it only opens fully in sunshine and does not grow in deep shade) suggests that it may not have purely woodland origins.

Best time to see

Flowers from March to April.

Cultural info

  • It is the County Flower of Middlesex.
  • In the Language of Flowers it symbolises brevity, expectation and forlornness.

How's it doing?


Did you know?

  • Anemone and windflower are names originating in the famous Anemone coronaria of Greek legend.
  • Some local names are not very innocent with the plant being linked to girls and their smocks and chemises, and with the wanton habits of cuckoos and with snakes (cf. the Cuckooflower).
  • The Chinese call it "the Flower of Death" because of its pale, ghostly appearance.
  • Vernacular names include Windflower, Grandmother's nightcap and Moggie nightgown. The latter is used in parts of Derbyshire where 'moggie' can mean mouse, not cat. Richard Mabey also reports on the delightful children's mis-hearing, 'wooden enemies'.
  • It has a sharp, musky smell. This is hinted at in some old local names like 'smell foxes'.
  • When the suburbs of London swept over the old county of Middlesex, some of its woods were bypassed and preserved. The wood anemone still blooms there to this day.
  • Hoverflies are particularly fond of the wood anemone and help pollinate it. Other animals, however, will only eat it if nothing else is available, because of its acrid taste. It is poisonous to humans.

That clear'st and carpetest each bush and tree, With daffodil and wood-anemone

John Payne (Victorian poet), "March"