Wood anemones – or windflowers, as they are also known – tend to hug the ground, usually rising no more than about six inches or so above the woodland floor. They are one of my favourite wild flowers, with six pure white petals and a cloud of stamens that look like tiny yellow planets orbiting around a central star. Their leaves are bright green and deeply serrated, similar to the hybridised anemones that we are familiar with in our gardens.
Despite growing in dappled shade, they love the sunlight, opening out fully in fine weather but closing up at the first spot of rain. Wood anemones bloom before the tree canopy comes into full leaf, taking advantage of the increased daylight while it lasts. By midsummer, the foliage will have died down and given way to taller plants.
I was interested to find that their petals are not really petals at all, but modified sepals. Although insects visit the blooms and pollinate them, the spread of the plant depends largely on the growth of its roots or rhizomes. This process takes place very slowly – apparently, wood anemones only spread six feet in a hundred years! The species is therefore a good indicator of an ancient woodland, along with bluebells, woodruff, yellow archangel and wood forget-me-not.
The ancient Greeks – always to be depended on for a good myth – believed that the wood anemone was a gift from the god of the east wind, Eurus. The gods in charge of the four winds were collectively known as the Anemoi, and this is where the name ‘anemone’ comes from.
In another legend, the goddess Aphrodite wept tears of sorrow at the death of her handsome lover, Adonis. Where her tears fell, windflowers sprang up. I prefer this story!
Other names for the wood anemone include ‘wind crowfoot’, ‘thimbleweed’, ‘lady’s petticoat’ and ‘grandmother’s nightcap’; according to some, it is the flower of the Virgin Mary. Fairy folk are believed to hide inside the flower and close it up when rain is threatening. Next time I see one, perhaps I’ll check!
There doesn’t seem to be any medicinal use for wood anemones – in fact, they are toxic, and therefore harmful to humans and animals if eaten. I guess that doesn’t matter too much, when the sight of them does so much to raise your spirits!