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Wood Anemone

Anemone nemorosa

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

Wood Anemone has solitary star-like white flowers with 5-8 petals, often pinkish underneath. Long-stalked stem leaves divided into three lobes, with each lobe divided.

Colonies of Wood Anemones with purple or purple-streaked petals are frequent 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 to spot it

You can find Wood Anemone in deciduous woodlands, particularly ancient ones. It can also be found in 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 spot it

Wood Anemone flowers from March to April

Did you know?

  • Wood Anemone has a sharp, musky smell. This is hinted at in some old local names like ‘smell foxes’.
  • 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.
  • 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’.
  • Anemone and windflower are names originating in the famous Anemone coronaria of Greek legend.
  • 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.
  • It is the County Flower of Middlesex.
  • In the Language of Flowers it symbolises brevity, expectation and forlornness.
  • 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).

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