Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tiny Spring Anemones

Small white wildflowers abound in spring. It can take careful examination of the plant’s parts sometimes to differentiate them: number of petals, leaves, seed pods – these are all helpful things. For me, it’s worth doing. I’d rather know what I’m actually seeing than just call it a white flower. This year I realized that I had 3 similar species in my yard – all of them with the word ‘anemone’ as part of the common name and all in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).

Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
The most common of the three is called rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides). It has a single tier of leaves that are faintly bluish, sometimes tinged with pale burgundy with softly rounded edges.

The parts that we might consider the petals are actually sepals and there can be 5-10 of them; they surround a cluster of stamens and pistils. The sepals are most often white but can be pale pink. The plant is sparse in shaded woodlands but gets more robust in good light, up to 8 inches tall. There may be 1-5 flowers in a terminal cluster.

Rue anemone is native mostly to north Georgia, but there are some reported populations in the upper Coastal Plain. It is easily transplanted and happy to grow in part-shade gardens with good soil. It blooms for 3-6 weeks in the spring.

Pinkish coloration on rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

The second anemone is called false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum). It has no reported presence in Georgia but is considered likely to be found. The population that I have was given to me by a friend. The slightly rounded foliage of this plant is similar to rue anemone, with rounded edges but more deeply divided lobes. According to this reference, false rue anemone will only ever have 5 sepals. In addition, it can be a taller plant than rue anemone. Both of the following pictures are from the same plant in my yard, several weeks apart.

Enemion biternatum
Enemion biternatum, notice the
leaves behind the flowers

Enemion biternatum seed capsule

If you can see the plant after flowering, the appearance of the fruit is markedly different. False rue anemone has beaked “follicles” that contain 2 or more seeds while rue anemone has beaked achenes (which is a single seed).

One source says that false rue anemone can get up to one foot tall, but that is not true in my garden. This is the earliest of the 3 to bloom for me. The first flower was on March 1 and it is still flowering 6 weeks later.

The third white anemone is called wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia). Distribution in Georgia is all in the Piedmont and mountain regions, not in the Coastal Plain. The leaf is a compound leaf with 5 leaflets or 3 leaflets where the two side leaflets are deeply cut so as to resemble 5. The leaflets are coarsely serrated with lobes that taper to relatively noticeable points, a characteristic which is different from the other two plants.

Anemone quinquefolia
Anemone quinquefolia

Wood anemone’s flowers have 5 or more of the petal-like sepals. There are no leaves behind the sepals, the flower rises up on a leafless petiole; there might be hairs on the stems and the fruits. Often the population of wood anemone might have more plants with leaves than flowers. That is definitely true in my yard. Somehow I now have 4-5 separate populations of them and only one flower total.

I hope you get a chance to notice one of these tiny anemones in the spring. Take good pictures and you should be able to figure it out when you get home.

1 comment:

  1. I also wish to know the names of the white flowers that I see, but they are not always easy to identify.
    The mock orange trees are in bloom now and they are beautiful. I didn't know what they were called for years but I loved them all the same.