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A is for Anenome

What to look out for in March

Wood anenomes (Anenome nemorosa) are one of the earliest to bloom among Britain’s native wildflowers.  Dependent on the part of the country, they are in flower from March through to May.

Wood anemones can grow under continuous tree cover, where light levels are low.  They flower early to take advantage of the increasing light levels at this time of year and, critically, before the deciduous woodland canopy comes into leaf and shades the woodland floor.  They like the moist soil near streams and also grow in brighter conditions at woodland edges or in hedges; heathy grassland and open moorland; and in rocky limestone habitats.  They so like the light that on overcast days the flowers remain closed.

“star-like wood anemone flower
A star-like wood anemone flowering in dappled shade

Their dainty white blossoms are often blushed pink and commonly have six or seven petals, although eight or more has been recorded.  If not the petal count, then it is the star-like shape and the short stature of the plant (15 – 20cm) that tells it apart from other woodland flora.

From a distance some may mistake it for wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), on account of its white flowers. However, wood sorrel can be distinguished by having five petals to each flower and foliage that clearly resembles the clover to which it is related.

Wood anemones have deeply divided leaves, which are only visible for a few weeks, and which faintly resemble buttercups, to which family they belong.  Once flower-fertilisation and setting-seed has occurred the entire plant retreats below ground to its rhizome, the fleshy rootstem that stores energy throughout the rest of the year.

Given the right conditions wood anemones can form large carpets as the rhizomes creep out horizontally.  They thrive where competition from other species is reduced by soil acidity, waterlogging or regular coppicing.

“carpets of wood anemone in gillfield wood
Carpets of wood anemone in Gillfield Wood, Sheffield

Wood anemones are regarded as an ‘Ancient Woodland Indicator’, a plant species that is commonly associated with ancient woodlands.  Other easy to recognise examples are: bluebells and wild garlic aka ramsons.