Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail

The Wood Anemone – Anemone nermorosa

The Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) is a pretty perennial wildflower of damp deciduous woodland, scrub, hedgerows and ditches. It has earned the nickname ‘windflower’, possibly thanks to its habit of nodding in the wind.

It is one the earliest spring flowers to bloom, although, in his Natural History, Pliny tells us, unconvincingly, that the flower will not open until the wind blows.

The solitary flowers have 6 white petals (technically sepals) and a yellow centre of anthers. The back of the petals is off-white, often tinged with pink. The leaves are deeply lobed and spread off the stem in whorls of 3 leaflets.

It has low basal leaves that only appear after the flowers have passed.

Just below the surface, the flower has spreading roots that reach out and help the flower to colonise areas, often blanketing many acres of suitable woodland. But this is a slow process, sometimes taking centuries.

It reacts to changes in light levels, lifting and opening in bright sun. When light levels drop it droops and closes, which is easy to spot as night or heavy rain approaches.

Wood anemone is poisonous and gives off a faint smell that many find unpleasant, hence the alternative rarer nickname, ‘smell foxes’. The Chinese know it as the ‘flower of death’. In other parts it has been used by the brave or foolish in medicinal treatments, for headaches, gout and even leprosy.

Natural Navigation

Wood Anemone is a dependable Ancient Woodland Indicator (AWI).

It is more common on north-facing slopes, especially when found outside the shade of woodlands, eg. on grasslands.

The flowers tend to open facing south.

It is found up to 400 metres above sea level, but no higher and not on very steep slopes.

It thrives in less fertile and undisturbed habitats.

In all the photos on this page we are facing close to East. I recently used it as my main compass to cross a section of woodland in Sussex.