The wood anemone is one of our most common spring flowers. Anemone nemorosa, as it is known, belongs to the family Ranunculaceae. Its genus name, anemone nemorosa, comes from the Greek, with amon meaning “from the root” and nemos meaning “grove.” This is a reference to its home in the shady and most soil of groves, forests and pastures. In Linnaeus’s time the flower was called “vitlock,” but in English, anemone nemorosa is generally called the wood anemone or wind flower, and its annual blooms are a major part of the spring landscape in many places.
The flowers of the wood anemone are carefully protected by the nature of the plant. When the sun is out, the flower is fully open to embrace the sunshine hours. At night or during rainy weather the flower closes up and droops its graceful head, so that water or dew droplets flow smoothly off the back of the petals rather than damaging the flower itself. In fact, way in the sepals fold over the stamen and immature seed-vessels has been likened to the pitching of a tent under which they can seek protection.
Wood anemones bloom in the same place each year, spreading their roots gradually through creeping rhizomes. In some areas, the roots are more than 100 years old and the plants form large carpets of flowers. If you observing the blooming dates, you will find that these flowers never appear before March 16th and never bloom after April 22nd. However, the start of these blooms begins the previous fall, when the buds form at the root of the plant and wait patiently for the springtime sun to warm the ground.
The plants propagate through their root system, and it is possible to transplant them by taking short pieces of the rhizome for yourself. Just remember that the plant needs plenty of moist, shady soil, and it can cause problems for your pets or farm animals if they nibble on it. Like other species in this tribe, it is somewhat poisonous, though the bitter taste serves as a strong warning.
Despite the slight danger element, wood anemones have been traditionally used in folk and formal medicines. It was known in the Middle Ages, as in 1530 the German Otto Brunfels wrote about the plant in his book about herbs, and in 1658 it was included in Olof Rudbeck’s Catalogus Plantarum.
Both Europeans and the native peoples of North America had their own applications. Generally, it was used topically to treat inflammation and blisters, since the wood anemone can help drive out build up fluids in an area, making it useful for rheumatism, joint pain, and swollen skin. Some folk traditions used it as a means of fighting freckles, though modern medicine no longer recommends it due to its tendency to irritate skin. While some say redness on the skin is a sign the flower is working, others prefer to simply admire the flower for afar or take the time to capture it on film.