CROWFOOT FAMILY - Ranunculaceae: Wood Anemone; Wind-flower
Flowers--Solitary, about 1 in. broad, white or delicately tinted with blue or pink outside. Calyx of 4 to 9 oval, petal-like sepals; no petals; stamens and carpels numerous, of indefinite number. Stem: Slender, 4 to 9 in. high, from horizontal elongated rootstock. Leaves: On slender petioles, in a whorl of 3 to 5 below the flower, each leaf divided into 3 to 5 variously cut and lobed parts; also a late-appearing leaf from the base.
Preferred Habitat--Woodlands, hillsides, light soil, partial shade.
Distribution--Canada and United States, south to Georgia, west to Rocky Mountains.
According to one poetical Greek tradition, Anemos, the wind,
employs these exquisitely delicate little star-like namesakes as
heralds of his coming in early spring, while woods and hillsides still
lack foliage to break his gusts' rude force. Pliny declared that only
the wind could open anemones! Another legend utilized by countless
poets pictures Venus wandering through the forests grief-stricken over
the death of her youthful lover.
"Alas, the Paphian! fair Adonis slain!
Tears plenteous as his blood she pours amain;
But gentle flowers are born and bloom around
From every drop that falls upon the ground:
Where streams his blood, there blushing springs the rose;
And where a tear has dropped, a wind-flower blows."
Indeed, in reading the poets ancient and modern for references to this favorite blossom, one realizes as never before the significance of an anthology, literally a flower gathering.
But it is chiefly the European Anemone that is extolled by the poets. Nevertheless our more slender, fragile, paler-leaved, and smaller-flowered species, known, strange to say, by the same scientific name, possesses the greater charm. Doctors, with more prosaic eyes than the poets, find acrid and dangerous juices in the anemone and its kin. Certain European peasants will run past a colony of these pure, innocent blossoms in the belief that the very air is tainted by them. Yet the Romans ceremonially picked the first anemone of the year, with an incantation supposed to guard them against fever. The identical plant that blooms in our woods, which may be found also in Asia, is planted on graves by the Chinese, who call it the "death flower."
Note the clusters of tuberous, dahlia-like roots, the whorl of thin, three-lobed rounded leaflets on long, fine petioles immediately below the smaller pure white or pinkish flowers usually growing in loose clusters, to distinguish the more common Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides or Syndesmon thalictroides or Thalictrum anemonoides) from its cousin the solitary flowered wood or true anemone. Generally there are three blossoms of the Rue Anemone to a cluster, the central one opening first, the side ones only after it has developed its stamens and pistils to prolong the season of bloom and encourage cross-pollination by insects. In the eastern half of the United States, and less abundantly in Canada, these are among the most familiar spring wild flowers. Pick them and they soon wilt miserably; lift the plants early, with a good ball of soil about the roots, and they will unfold their fragile blossoms indoors, bringing with them something of the unspeakable charm of their native woods and hillsides just waking into life.