Wood anemones are one of the first spring flowers, their cheerful white stars appearing in March and April. They are perennials and, as their seed is rarely viable in Britain, they spread by means of underground roots. However, they do not advance their carpet quickly, and colonies of anemones can often be found in the same spot within a wood, century after century. Bradfield Wood in Suffolk has large carpets of wood anemones, and the fact that these woods have a history of traditional management reaching back to the 12th century illustrates the plant’s long association with ancient woodland.
However, the appearance of wood anemones in parts of the uplands long-since denuded of their woodland suggests that the plant may have once been more widespread and not confined to woods. There are colonies in the Yorkshire Dales and on the limestone hills of Derbyshire. This apparent liking for light may explain its early – and short – flowering season. Once the trees in a wood have rebuilt their spring canopy of leaves, the plant’s flowers wither and fall.
Some of the best colonies of wood anemones are in Wayland Wood in Norfolk, the site of the ‘Babes in the Wood’ story. These plants have purple streaked and even wholly purple petals to their flowers and records suggest that there was also once a rare blue-flowered variety.