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( Thalictrum thalictroides )
Rue Anemone, Wind Flower, taken on January 12, 2005.
Photo Credit: Mike Strickland
What a thrill to suddenly see in late winter the early blooming and much loved Thalictrum thalictroides, Rue Anemone. The bloom held aloft on a wiry stem above the leaves is an eye-catching white and a welcome sight in the winter landscape signaling that warmer weather will soon arrive.
Rue Anemone is a true ephemeral. Basal leaves emerge from tuberous roots as early as January and sometimes even a flower may bloom, taking advantage of the warmth and sunlight of the deciduous forest to quickly grow, flower, and set seed before the trees leaf out.
Unless you are a woods rambler, you may not notice the basal leaves of Rue Anemone emerge in January. They are lobed, dark green with hints of purple, and provide good visual interest during a period when there is little else growing. (All the leaves are compound, meaning they are made of smaller leaflets. Rue anemone leaves have three leaflets, each of which has three rounded lobes at the tip.) However, the first white bloom will definitely catch your eye even from a distance. And when a breeze makes the dark wiry-stem sway, you will understand another common name "Wind Flower".
This is a delicate looking plant, quite small reaching only 6-9" in full bloom, but it is hardy and the bloom lasts about 3 weeks. The flower has (most commonly) 5 white sepals (not petals) with numerous yellow stamens. Each stamen can produce a seed assisting the plant in naturalizing the area around it with more plants each year although its small stature, its beauty, and its early dormancy prevent it from seeming (or becoming) invasive. Each flower has its own stem even though sometimes they are so numerous they appear to be a cluster.
Site Thalictrum thalictroides where it can receive sunlight in winter and early spring during its emerging and growing period but partial shade in summer while it is in dormancy. Preferring acidic soil and a somewhat moist environment during its growth phase, Rue Anemone can tolerate drier conditions during dormancy. Planting on a slope assists in establishing a wonderful drift of Rue Anemone over the years. Be sure to plant it in numerous places around your property and enjoy seeing how each grouping emerges and performs. You may be surprised with blooms as early as January and as late as September if the plant finds conditions accommodating. Because it will disappear completely during dormancy, mark the area with a lovely rock or perhaps a fern to prevent disturbing that area while its presence is not visible.
Natively we find Rue Anemone in hardwood forests (prior to leafing out) along slopes and ridges. The plants must have enough sunlight to photosynthesize. Once the seed is produced, the tri-lobed leaves maintain their presence until dormancy begins as summer's heat ensues and sunlight ceases to penetrate through the tree leaves. This plant is truly opportunistic in that it is able to complete a full cycle of emergence, flower, seed, dormancy in the course of two months that provide warmth and sunlight as the woods move from leafless to full leaf. This cycle also depends upon pollinators to make that seed so the weather must be warm enough for flies, bumblebees, gnats, and beetles to be moving around. With all the above, you'd think Rue Anemone is difficult to grow but that is not the case as the hardwood trees provide the required environment.
Propagation by division will give you blooms more quickly. Plants grown from seed may take up to 3 years to flower. Plant the rhizome shallowly. Performs best in partial shade than full shade. Zones 3-8.
Flower width up to 1", whiteness of the flower, and the earliness of the flower make Rue Anemone a great drifting accent in the mid to late winter woodland garden.
Common uses for this plant include: Brighten a deciduous woods area in early winter, provide food for early pollinators, naturalizes easily.