On a sunny day at the end of winter, when the branches of the trees are still bare and the Bluebells are only just in bud, the sight of shady banks and glades lit by the white stars of the Wood Anemone leave you in no doubt that spring is truly here.
The wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa, a pretty spring flower of ancient woodlands. The plants start blooming soon after the foliage emerges from the ground. It shoots to stardom in a matter of weeks, accomplishing its whole cycle, flowering, pollination, setting seed then disappearing into dormancy. This fleeting performance is typical of spring flowers, especially those on the woodland floor.
On bright days Wood Anemones growing on a south-facing edge of a wood all turn their heads to follow the sun from east to west. When the canopy fills in overhead, it deprives carpeting plants of light and water and forces them into hibernation until next spring.
Anemone nemorosa grows to about 10cm (4in) height, the leaves are divided into three segments. The flowers are held on short stems above the foliage with one flower per stem. The foliage dies back down by mid-summer. The plants grow from underground root-like stems called rhizomes which spread just below the soil surface, forming long spreading clumps that grow quickly, contributing to its spread in woodland conditions, where they often carpet large areas.
The small flowers are 2cm (3/4 in) in diameter, with six to eight tepals (petal-like segments) with many stamens. In the wild the flowers are usually white but may be tinted pinkish, lilac or blue, and often have a darker tint on the backs of the tepals. The flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects.
Despite its lowly bearing, this lovely woodlander makes a striking impact in the spring garden. The Irish-born exponent of wild gardening, William Robinson (1838-1935), adored wood anemones. Writing in his English Flower Garden in 1883, he begins by saying "there is little need to plead for their culture".
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
Anemone nemorosa has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Sowing: Sow in Spring or Autumn.
Sow 1.5mm (1/16in) deep in a good quality, moist seed compost. For best results the seeds should be pre-chilled before sowing. To do this sow as above and seal inside a polythene bag, leave for 2 weeks at 15 to 18°C (60 to 65°F) then place in a fridge (not freezer) for six weeks. Then return to 15 to 18°C and exclude light until germination starts in one to three months. Keep a check on the compost to make sure it does not dry out.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots and place in a cold frame. After the first season, plant out 30cm (12in) apart in moist, well drained soil in sun or part shade.
Any shady spot can support a thriving colony of wood anemones. Even urban gardens where shade is cast from tall buildings, rather than trees, can offer adequate hospitality. It is important to choose a partly-shaded spot, in full shade the plants will struggle and the blooms are best in sunshine.
Anemones, along with other woodlanders prefer a well-drained, humus-rich soil. They will tolerate dry gardens, but spread better in moist soil and a mulch will help to keep the moisture in. However, they do not like standing in water during winter and they don't need feeding.
Before planting, work a bucket or two of leaf mould or composted bark into the top few inches of the soil. Avoid manure or other rich food. If you are planting among tree roots, be tentative. Use a trowel or hand fork to detect main roots and make small, shallow planting holes between them. Water well and mulch. Do not build raised beds over tree roots. Once established do not replant, the plants flower best in its second and subsequent years.
Wood anemones are undemanding plants. An occasional bucket of leaf mould spread over their heads while they are dormant is sufficient. Compost your own leaves in bin bags or wire cages. Extra water is needed in exceptionally dry sites only.
Shade and Woodland Gardens, Shaded beds and borders, Underplanting
Anemone is a huge genus, mostly from the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, a number of forms have evolved. Many Anemones are natural woodland or woodland edge plants and they are some of the very best shade loving plants. There is often an Anemone in flower, from the first Anemone nemorosa in March to the last Japanese Anemone in October or November. While most species grow from creeping rhizomes, Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda) and poppy anemone (A. coronaria) grow from tubers.
Wood Anemones are common and widespread in Britain and Ireland, they are found also throughout most of mainland Europe except for the very dry and sandy southern parts of the Mediterranean region. They can be found in ancient woodlands, hedge banks, on heathy grassland and open moorland and in limestone pavements.
Wood Anemones are grow very slowly so woodlands with large patches of this flower are likely to be very old. Its spread has been estimated at about six feet in one hundred years, according to Richard Mabey in his Flora Britannica. If this is true, it is plants like this that highlight the foolishness of the government's proposed practice of allowing developers to 'offset' destruction of old-established woodlands by planting new ones on open fields. Assuming it was possible, it would take centuries to replicate the drifts of wood anemones that are one of the defining features of ancient woodlands.
Wood Anemones are members of the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae and like other members Anemones contain the irritating, acrid oil protoanemonin and are not edible.
The genus name anemone literally means 'the daughter of the Wind’. It is derived from the Greek word for wind, anemos. When a gust blows across the woodland floor, thousands of anemone flowers shiver on flower stalks that are as slender as a thread.
Many modern books repeat the story that the Roman naturalist Pliny (c. 77AD) believed that it was the wind that brought anemones into bloom in the spring "The flower never opens, except while the wind is blowing, a circumstance to which it owes its name"; however, it wouldn't have been this species that he had in mind, but the far more robust, scarlet-flowered Anemone coronaria that blooms throughout the eastern Mediterranean in spring. Pliny's writings are fascinating source of natural history information, some of it fanciful, some of it accurate and perceptive.
The specific epithet nemorosa is derived from the Latin nemus meaning ‘forest’ - a reference to the woodland habitat in which these flowers grow.
Common names include Wind Flower, Grandmother’s Nightcap and Moggie Nightgown (‘Moggie’ means mouse in this instance, not cat) and Smell Fox, an allusion to the musky scent of the leaves.
Aberrations occur in the wild and occasionally there are leafy tops instead of flowers, or green strappy ribbons for petals, or frilled doubles. These have been collected and named for centuries. In the wild the flower petals can be pure white, pinky-purple streaked or, very rarely, sky-blue (var. caerulea).
The RHS Plant Finder lists more than 40 varieties. Some look very much alike, although there are subtle differences. Most varieties are natural variants noticed by keen-eyed botanists and gardeners and introduced because of their unusual colour, quality or size of their flower, or an esoteric or quirky characteristic. Some are exceedingly beautiful, others excessively odd.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
- Additional Information
Packet Size 200mg Average Seed Count 70 Seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Anemone Species nemorosa Common Name Windflower
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Common Names Wind Flower, Grandmother’s Nightcap, Moggie Nightgown, Smell Fox Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Usually white but may be tinted pinkish, lilac or blue Natural Flower Time March to May Height 10cm (4in) Spread to 60cm (24in) Position Well-drained, humus-rich soil