Well, I can still walk which means, of course, that I can self-inflict more damage. Luckily there’s a tornado warnning out so maybe that will keep me quiet. Back to yesterday’s woods and the flower I consider the true mark of spring, wood anemone, not as famous as its cousin, rue anemone and with some dire history….
The origin legend for wood anemone is the same as for all anemones. And where a tear has dropped, a windflower blows.” They sprang up from Aphrodite’s tears as she cried over Adonis’ death. Wood anemone is called the Flower of Death in China, and it was an emblem of ill health in ancient Egypt.
Click on graphic for larger image
—Description—It has a long, tough, creeping root-stock, running just below the surface; it is the quick growth of this root-stock that causes the plant to spread so rapidly, forming large colonies in the moist soil of wood and thicket. The deeply-cut leaves and star-like flowers rise directly from it on separate unbranched stems. Some distance below the flower are the three leaflets, often so deeply divided as to appear more than three in number and very similar to the true leaves. They wrap round and protect the flower-bud before it unfolds, but as it opens, its stalk lengthens and it is carried far above them.
The flower has no honey and little scent, and apparently relies little on the visits of insects for the fertilization of its one-celled seed-vessels, which are in form like those of the butter-cup, arranged in a mass in the centre of the many stamens, and are termed achenes. As in all the Anemones, there are no true petals, what seem so are really the sepals, which have assumed the colouring and characteristics of petals. They are six in number, pure white on the upper surfaces and pale rose-coloured beneath.
In sunshine, the flower is expanded wide, but at the approach of night, it closes and droops its graceful head so that the dew may not settle on it and injure it. If rain threatens in the daytime, it does the same, receiving the drops upon its back, whence they trickle of harmlessly from the sepal tips. The way the sepals then fold over the mass of stamens and undeveloped seed-vessels in their centre has been likened to a tent, in which, as used fancifully to be said by country-folk, the fairies nestled for protection, having first pulled the curtains round them.
The plant is very liable to attack from certain fungi: at times, a species of Puccinia settles on it, the result being that the stalks of infected leaves grow rapidly, high above the others, though the leaves themselves dwindle and lose their divisions. A species of Sclerotinia attacks the swollen tubers of the root, doing still more harm, for in the spring there arise not the delicate white flowers, but the ugly fructifications of the fungus.
Though so innocent in appearance, the Wood Anemone possesses all the acrid nature of its tribe and is bitter to the tongue and poisonous. Cattle have been poisoned, Linnaeus tells us, by eating it in the fresh state after having been underfed and kept on dry food during the winter, so that they were ready to browse on the first leaves they saw. A vinegar made from the leaves retains all the more acrid properties of the plant, and is put in France to many domestic purposes: its rubifacient effects have caused it to be used externally in the same way as mustard.
The Egyptians held the Anemone as the emblem of sickness, perhaps from the flush of colour upon the backs of the white sepals. The Chinese call it the ‘Flower of Death.’ In some European countries it is looked on by the peasants as a flower of ill-omen, though the reason of the superstition is obscure. The Romans plucked the first Anemones as a charm against fever, and in some remote districts this practice long survived, it being considered a certain cure to gather an Anemone saying, ‘I gather this against all diseases,’ and to tie it round the invalid’s neck.
- Greek legends say that Anemos, the Wind, sends his namesakes the Anemones, in the earliest spring days as the heralds of his coming. Pliny affirmed that they only open when the wind blows, hence their name of Windflower, and the unfolding of the blossoms in the rough, windy days of March has been the theme of many poets:
- ‘Coy anemone that ne’er uncloses
- Her lips until they’re blown on by the wind.’
- Culpepper also uses the word ‘windflower.’ In Greek mythology it sprang from the tears of Venus, as she wandered through the woodlands weeping for the death of Adonis –
- ‘Where streams his blood there blushing springs a rose
- And where a tear has dropped, a wind-flower blows.’
The old herbalists called the Wood Anemone the Wood Crowfoot, because its leaves resemble in shape those of some species of Crowfoot. We also find it called Smell Fox. The specific name of nemorosa refers to its woodland habits.