Meadow yellow

Meadow yellow
Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) in a Devon meadow

Monday, 23 April 2012

Windless anemones

Over the last few weeks our local Devon woodlands have sprung to life with the white starlight flowers of Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), carpeting the open floors. I’ve also recently been to the beach a couple of times and I have become curious about the marine namesakes, such as the Snakelocks Anemone (Anemonia viridis) pictured above. What is the commonality of the name, ‘anemone’?
Looking up in the dictionary, 'Anemo’ is Greek for wind, which I could have guessed from knowing that an anemometer is an instrument to measure wind. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary (1952) defines ‘Anemone’ as “daughter of the wind” and the Wood Anemone as “the wind-flower”. Other sources state that the wind God, 'Anemos' sent Anemones early to herald his early coming in spring - the Wood Anemone is certainly one of our earliest flowering plants. However there does not seem to be any evidence that wind plays much of a part in the life history of this plant. They spread mainly via underground rhizomes as long-lived clonal groups, and pollination is via insects (Stehlik and Holderegger, 2000). An alternative name is ‘Smell Fox”, which is explained by the musky smell of the leaves (, 2012) – a bit a blunt and ‘to the point’ of a name, but at least more descriptively accurate.

The link with sea anemones seems more straightforward – these sea creatures resemble flowers with their brightly coloured spreading tentacles – hence the Strawberry Anemone (Actinia fragacea) which is reddish with flecks like pips on a strawberry. Indeed, until modern times many believed that sea anemones were actually plant species. However the resemblance of the large variety of sea anemones does not seem particularly reminiscent of plant anemone species – many look more like colourful sunflowers or daisies.
So, in pedantic summary the anemones don’t have much in common with wind, and sea anemones don’t look any more like anemones than many other flower genera. This should not however stop us admiring the wonderful beauty of anemones, plant or animal.

Onions, C.T (1952) The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles. Oxford: Clarendon Press
Stehlik, I. and Holderegger, R (2000) Spatial genetic structure and clonal diversity of Anemone nemorosa in late successional deciduous woodlands of Central Europe. Journal of Ecology, 88 (3): 424–435 (2012) [online] Wood Anemone-  [Accessed 22/04/12]