Wood Anemone: Thriving in Shade

Wood anemone

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Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), is a low-growing, rhizomatous herbaceous perennial, native to Europe that grows in shaded woodlands. These spring ephemerals are one of the first plants to bloom in spring, providing an abundance of single, white flowers, with prominent yellow stamens, that are an early source of food for pollinators. Along with bluebells and wild garlic, the wood anemone is indicative that the woodland is ancient.
In the home garden, wood anemone makes a beautiful landscape flower in shady areas.

Interesting facts

What does the wood anemone symbolise?

Protection and anticipation.

Wood anemone story

Anemone was a beautiful nymph, and Zephyrus, one of the four Anemoi (wind gods)-Boreas (North), Zephyrus (West), Notus (South) and Eurus (East). Zephyrus (also known as Zephyr) the god of the west wind, was married to Chloris (also known as Flora), the goddess of flowers and spring. When Flora discovered her husband’s affection for Anemone, she used her powers to turn Anemone into a flower, so she could no longer be with Zephyr. Flora cast a spell that transformed Anemone into a delicate flower, causing Zephyr to lose interest in her. Boreas, the god of the north wind fell in love with Anemone, despite her being a flower. However, Anemone was not interested in him. In his frustration at being rejected, Boreas used his chilling winds to blow open the petals of Anemone.
Zephyr ends up losing interest in Anemone as a flower preferring her as a nymph. However, Boreas another wind god (North Wind) represented the winter winds. He fell in love with her despite her being a flower.
He tried in vain to woo her but Anemone was not at all interested in him. An angry Boreas blows on her petals every spring.

Name origins

The name Anemone nemorosa means “windflower of the woods.”

  • Anemone comes from the Greek word ‘ánemos’ (άνεμος) which means ‘wind‘. Anemones are often referred to as windflowers, which is reflected in their name.
  • Nemorosa has derived from the Latin word ‘nemoris‘, which means ‘of the forest‘, reflecting the natural habitat of wood anemone.

At a glance

Wood anemone at a glance

Botanical name Anemone nemorosa
Common names Wood anemone, Windflower, European thimbleweed, Crowfoot, Smell fox, Thimbleweed
Native area Europe
Habitat Woodland
Mature height 8-15 cm (3-6 in)
Spread 30 cm (12 in)
Flower colour White
Bloom time Spring
Leaf colour Green
Sun exposure Full shade to part sun
Soil type Well-drained, humus-rich
Soil pH Acid or lime soil


The term “cultivar” is a contraction of “cultivated variety”. Unlike natural plant varieties that can develop in the wild through natural processes, cultivars are usually developed through human intervention, through selective breeding.

  • ‘Alba Plena’: Double, pure white flowers that give a fuller appearance compared to the single blooms of the species.
  • ‘Allenii’: Large sky-blue flowers and one of the more vigorous cultivars, spreading relatively quickly.
  • ‘Blue Eyes’: With a double set of petals, ‘Blue Eyes’ has white flowers with a blue centre, giving it a striking, eye-like appearance.
  • ‘Bowles’ Purple’: Rich purple-lilac flowers and is named after the famous British horticulturist E. A. Bowles.
  • ‘Bracteata Pleniflora’: Greenish-white double flowers surrounded by showy green bracts.
  • ‘Robinsoniana’: Named after the Irish plantsman William Robinson, this cultivar has pale lavender-blue flowers and is known for its robust growth.
  • ‘Royal Blue’: As the name suggests, ‘Royal Blue’ boasts deep blue flowers.
  • ‘Vestal’: This cultivar is known for its elegant, double-white flowers with a central ruff of small petaloids surrounding yellow stamens.
  • ‘Viridiflora’: Green-tinted flowers, that provide an unusual and interesting variation in the garden.
  • ‘Rosea’: Delicate pink flowers, adding a soft, pastel color to the early spring garden.


Wood anemone leaf
Wood anemones have 2.5-5 cm long palmately lobed leaves divided into three main segments, with each segment further divided into narrower lobes, which gives them a feathered appearance. The leaf margins are irregularly toothed, and the leaves are arranged in whorls where they attack at the same point on the stem, below the flowers.
Wood anemone flower
Each flower has five to eight petal-like sepals, which are usually pure white but can sometimes have a pink or lilac tinge, especially on the reverse side. The sepals surround a cluster of yellow stamens at the centre. The flowers are about 2.5 cm in diameter and grow singly on slender stems that rise above the plant’s whorl of leaves. When in full bloom, wood anemone flowers have an open, star-shaped appearance, During evenings or overcast weather, the flowers close to protect the pollen.

Life cycle

The wood anemone emerges, flowers and dies back within a brief period in spring, which is referred to as spring ephereral. Spring ephemerals take advantage of the higher light levels on the woodland floor early in the year before the leaves of deciduous trees develop, and shade out the understory.
In late winter, early spring, leaves emerge from the underground twig-like rhizome, which is followed by the emergence of its star-shaped white flowers. Hoverflies and bees are a major pollinators of wild anemones, and after pollination, deed pods develop from the flowers. The seeds are then dispersed by wind and ants which are attracted to the elaiosomes (fatty attachments) on the seeds. After flowering, the wood anemone continues to grow vegetatively, focusing on storing energy in the rhizomes. During this period, the rhizomes may spread, leading to the growth of new plants. By late summer the above-ground parts of the wood anemone begin to die back and the plant remains dormant from autumn until late winter. The energy is conserved in the rhizomes, which will remain dormant throughout the winter.

How to sow wood anemone seeds

Sowing wood anemone seeds is a challenge due to their complex germination requirements, but it can be accomplished with patience.
The best time to sow wood anemones is in autumn when the seeds are fresh, and they will experience a period of cold stratification over winter. If growing in spring, the seeds will need a period of cold stratification for 12 weeks. Place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
The ideal position for wood anemone is full shade to dappled sun.

  • Always select fresh seeds which are available in late summer or early autumn. The seeds should be dry and brown and fall easily out of the seedheads when shaken. Check with local authorities if you plan to collect wood anemone seeds from the wild.
  • If growing in autumn, sow the seeds in a container of soil or directly into a garden bed. Place the seeds on top of the soil mix as wood anemone seeds require light to germinate. Spring-sowed wood anemone seeds will have had to be cold-stratified prior to sowing (see above).
  • Water the seeds with a fine mist to settle the soil and ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Keep the seedbed moist but not waterlogged.
  • It typically takes 3-4 weeks for wood anemone seeds to germinate, but may take longer.

How to grow wood anemones from rhizomes

Rhizomes should be healthy and firm, avoid dry or shrivelled ones. The best time to plant your wood anemone rhizomes is in autumn, a few weeks before the first frost. This will allow them to establish a healthy root system before winter.

  • Prepare the soil by loosening it to a depth of 30 cm, mix in some compost or well-rotted cow manure.
  • Soak the rhizomes in water a few hours prior to planting to rehydrate them.
  • Plant the rhizomes horizontally in the soil about 5-7.5 cm deep, and about 10-15cm apart.
  • After planting, water the soil thoroughly to help it settle around the rhizomes.
  • Apply a layer of mulch after planting to conserve water and protect from harsh weather conditions.
  • As the plants emerge in spring, maintain water, especially if the weather is dry. Be careful not to overwater.
  • Apply a light application of a well-balanced fertiliser.

Remember, wood anemones die back after they have produced seeds, but will return the following spring.

How does wood anemone reproduce?

Wood anemone reproduces sexually through seed production and vegetatively through rhizomatous growth. The rhizomes grow horizontally just below the soil surface. As they grow, they extend outward from the parent plant they produce adventitious roots and shoots at nodes along their length. The roots anchor the rhizomes into the soil, while the shoots will grow upwards to become new above-ground plants. Rhizomatic growth is an effective way for the wood anemone to propatate itself, particularly in shady woodland areas where seed germination may be less reliable.
Flowers appear in spring and are pollinated by insects, leading to the production of seeds. Once the seeds mature, they are dispersed into the environment.  Germination is a slow process, as wood anemones require a period of cold stratification to mimic the cold of winter.
Wood anemone also spreads vegetatively through its rhizomatous root system. Rhizomes are below-ground horizontal root stems that produce roots at the nodes. Rhizomes can form large colonies of genetically identical plants, which is the primary method of propagating wood anemones.

How fast do wood anemones spread?

Wood anemones are known to spread fairly slowly and it is said that they can take up to 100 years to spread across a distance of about 2 metres. The rate at which wood anemones spread can vary depending on soil conditions, moisture, light, and competition from other plants.
The rate at which wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) spread can vary based on several factors including soil conditions, availability of moisture, light conditions, and competition from other plants. In optimal conditions, wood anemones can spread quite efficiently through their rhizomatous root system.


In the home garden, wood anemones are grown for their ornamental attributes, particularly their star-shaped flowers that bloom in early spring. These delicate white blooms, often tinged with pink or purple, can enliven shaded areas with their fleeting beauty. Additionally, wood anemone’s ability to form dense carpets of lush foliage makes it an excellent ground cover in shady areas other plants may struggle to thrive in. Its flowers also attract pollinators, contributing to a biodiverse and ecologically balanced garden environment.
The dense growth of wood anemones in woodlands can help stabilise soil and prevent erosion. The leaves and stems create a ground cover that can protect the soil during heavy or prolonged rainy seasons.


Provide a woodland-like environment with dappled shade or partial sun, and maintain a well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter. Keep the soil consistently moist, but be careful not to over-water which can lead to root rot.
Apply a light layer of compost or a balanced fertiliser with an equal ratio of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K), such as a 10-10-10 or a 14-14-14.

  • Nitrogen (N) helps with leafy, vegetative growth.
  • Phosphorus (P) is important for root development and flower production.
  • Potassium (K) is essential for the overall health and vigor of the plant.

Since wood anemones are grown primarily for their flowers, and they have a period of dormancy after flowering, it’s not necessary to apply a high-nitrogen fertiliser. A balanced fertiliser will ensure that the plants have all the nutrients they need for healthy root development, flowering, and overall growth.
During winter, protect the rhizomes in colder regions by adding an extra layer of mulch, and avoid excessive disturbance around the plant’s root zone.

Is wood anemone toxic to cats and dogs?

Wood anemone is toxic to both dogs and cats. The toxic compound is protoanemonin, which can be irritating and harmful to pets if ingested. If a dog or cat consumes parts of the wood anemone plant, they may experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, or abdominal pain. Contact with the plant can also cause skin irritation.
Anemonin forms from the breakdown of the glycoside ranunculin. When any part of the plant is damaged, the enzyme ranunculase converts ranunculin to protoanemonin, which is an unstable compound and rapidly dimerises to form anemonin. Protoanemonin is more irritating and toxic than anemonin itself. As an intermediate compound in the formation of anemonin, protoanemonin is responsible for a significant amount of the observed toxicity.
Ingestion of anemonin or protoanemonin causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea due to its irritant action in the GI tract. In higher doses, anemonin is a central nervous system depressant, producing muscle weakness, incoordination and respiratory depression.
Given the irritant properties of anemonin and its potential harmful effects, it is advisable to handle plants containing this compound with caution and to keep them away from pets and children. Also, while anemonin does have some po
Seek veterinary assistance if you suspect that your pet has ingested any part of the plant.

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