The Windflower: cousin of the Easter flower and the ghost of woodlands past

Walking through the East Sussex woodlands in early spring it was hard not to notice the dark green leaves and startlingly white flowers against a backdrop of leaf detritus remaining from last autumn. Anemone nemorosa also known as the Wood Anemone, Crowfoot or Windflower has a delicate star-like white flower on a stem and is a plant that spreads readily. While the upper part of the flower is white, they are pinkish underneath. In sunlight the flower opens fully as if relishing it and closes and droops in the dark and rain – just like me.

A relative of Anemone nemorosa is Anemone pulsatilla also known as the pasqueflower or Easter flower which comes from its blooming time, around Easter(Passover).

According to Greek myth Anemos, the Wind, sends the Anemones in the early spring to announce his impending arrival. Nemorosa has its roots in the latin ‘nemorosus‘ meaning ‘wooded or covered with trees’. When Anemone nemorosa is found outside of its woodland habitat for example in meadows or hedgebanks it could indicate the site of a vanished woodland and therefore is also referred to as a woodland ghost.

When looking for suitable clusters of Windflowers to photograph in the woods I did not find many in full bloom but after leaving the woods and driving through East Sussex I saw several bigger clusters near hedgerows benefiting from more sunlight but unfortunately not in a position I could stop to photograph them.

Greek mythology also tells us that Venus created the Windflower. Venus had a love affair with Adonis who was fatally wounded when he went hunting a wild boar. So heartbroken was she at his death that her tears caused a Windflower to grow from the blood he shed. Its remarkable how many flowers have this sort of tragic but love driven history.

Similarly to Adonis the lifespan of a Windflower is short and lasts the first few weeks of spring (March to May)before the shade from the trees above becomes too dense and blocks out the light. This limited annual life-cycle is facilitated by its ability to produce leaves and flowers simultaneously thanks to its rhizomes, running just below the ground surface.

Anemones don’t have true petals but rather tepals of which the Windflower usually has six. Three-lobed stalked dark green leaves can be seen halfway up the stem. Herbalists called Anemone nemorosa the Wood Crowfoot because the leaves are similar to some species of crowfoot it was believed to cure leprosy.

The Wood Anemone is poisonous and the plant contains protoanemonin which is an irritating harsh oil that can cause serious skin and gastrointestinal irritation. However it is reported that when the plant is dried or heated the protoanemonin is inactivated.

This plant certainly has several names and the wood anemone has also been called Lady’s petticoat. In the countryside it is rumoured that the folded tepals of the wood anemone also form a shelter for protecting fairies. Next time I see one I am going to take a closer look.

“The Earth Laughs in Flowers” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a thicket green,
A soft spring breeze,
Flirt dainty
white anemones.

Closed sepal stars
From heaven sent,
Sleep fairies
In ethereal tents.

Sweet flower of spring,
Leaves of green lace,
Petticoat
This woodland place.

Some say each sprang
From a Venus tear;
But a laughing earth
Is what I hear.

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