Wood Anemones

In spring our deciduous woodlands throng with wildflowers before the trees get all their leaves and shade out the light. One of the earliest to take advantage of the spring light and warming weather, covering the forest floor with white stars from March to May, are the wood anemones.

These lovely flowers spread very slowly (only about 1.5m in a hundred years!) relying not on the spread of seed, but on the spread of their roots and, like bluebells and wild garlic, are therefore excellent indicators of ancient woodland.

Wood anemone carpetting the spring woodland floor

They only open fully in sunshine and will not grow in deep shade, but can be seen commonly on verges and banks which may indicate that the area was once wooded.

They are known in some places as windflower or grandmother’s nightcap and I’ve heard that, in one of those brilliant misheard mistakes, they have been referred to as ‘wooden enemies’!

At a distance, wood sorrel maybe confused with wood anemone but it has distinctive pink veins in its white petals and the leaves are different in shape displaying a rounded, heart shaped appearance compared to the deeply lobed leaves of the wood anemone.  Also, the flower tends to be looking downcast or sorrowful – I find that a useful mnemonic when deciding which is which!

The much more ‘sorrowful’ wood sorrel!