One of the showier Spring wildflowers one may encounter is known as Rue Anemone. This curious little flower can easily be missed if you don’t look down, but when you notice it are probably struck by it’s ornate beauty. Several stalks emanating from basal leaves that terminate in beautiful white to pink flowers that are quite showy for their size. The thin stalks mean that the blooms will often dance in the slightest breeze.
Whether you are just wondering what this flower is, or are interested in growing this in your yard stick around as I’ve got all the info you need in this profile.
In this article:
- What is Rue Anemone
- What are the benefits of Rue Anemone
- Identification / Characteristics
- How to grow and care for Rue Anemone
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect Rue Anemone
- Where to buy Rue Anemone
- Uses of Rue Anemone
- Final thoughts
What is Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone is a perennial woodland wildflower native to Eastern North America. It will grow 4-8″ tall in partial sun to full shade, in well drained soil under deciduous trees. A Spring ephemeral, it blooms white flowers for several weeks in early Spring, providing pollen to bees before going dormant by early Summer. 
One of the many Spring ephemerals native to Eastern North America, Rue Anemone is found in deciduous forests that have not been disturbed heavily for some time. Since it likes undisturbed land, when you encounter it it has been present for a long time, often resulting in large populations, which makes for a beautiful display.
On Spring days if one pays attention to the ground while hiking, you may notice dozens of these small blossoms dancing in the breeze, as the motion makes the white blooms more conspicuous. This effect also gives it another common name, Windflower, which translated to Greek is the former genus, Anemonella.
Botanically, Rue Anemone was originally known as Anemonella thalictroides. This was changed in and it is know scientifically known as Thalictrum thalictroides.
Native Range of Rue Anemone
The native range of Rue Anemone is predominately in the eastern half of North America. From Manitoba to Minnesota and Texas, then East to Maine and Florida.
Rue Anemone Reference Table
|Anemonella thalictroides, Thalictrum thalictroides
|Rue Anemone, Windflower, Wind-Flower
|Native Range, USDA Zone
|Eastern United States, USDA hardiness zones 4-9
|Bloom Duration, Color
|3 weeks, White to pink
|4-8″ (10-20 cm)
|Spacing / Spread
|6″ (15 cm)
|Full shade to partial sun
|Well drained loam, sandy loam, clay loam
|Medium to dry
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts
What are the Benefits of Rue Anemone
An early bloomer
Rue Anemone is one of the earliest native flowers to bloom in Spring. It generally starts blooming about the same time as other Spring Ephemerals such as Virginia Bluebells and Spring Beauty. And roughly two weeks after Red Maple trees begin blooming.
Pollen for bees
Rue Anemone produces pollen for numerous native pollinators who don’t rely on nectar. So, it is one of the early flowers that these native species rely on for nourishment.
Can grow in full shade, forests
Rue Anemone will grow in what is normally thought of full shade conditions. Although it isn’t quite true….as a Spring Ephemeral, Rue Anemone will leaf out and bloom before the tall deciduous trees leaf out, thus they get their sunlight before the full canopy has formed.
So, if you have a wooded lot or forest, Rue Anemone can grow there.
Identification and Characteristics of Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone is one of those curious little wildflowers you may encounter during a walk in the woods. Look for it in March-May once Spring has arrived. Often found in populations, you will notice small white flowers from a distance, which upon closer examination are quite beautiful.
The stem of Rue Anemone is fairly delicate and thin. It is usually green to red in color and smooth.
Rue Anemone will have basal leaves at the base of the plant that are trifoliate. Individual leaflets are approximately 1″ wide by 1.5″ long. Partway up the stem a whorl of leaves, which are similar to the basal leaves occur on short stems. 
Leaflets are green to reddish green color, and generally have smooth margins. Textured veins are usually visible above and underneath.
Clusters (umbels) of 1-5 flowers occurs at the top of the stem. Each flower is are attached by short stems, usually about 1″ long (2.5 cm). The flower will generally have 5-9 white sepals that resemble petals (sometimes more), with a cluster of stamens that noticeably rise above the center. Sometimes the sepals have a pink hue, or even naturally occur as a double bloom. 
Saving seed from Rue Anemone
Blooming lasts for roughly three weeks in early Spring. About four weeks after blooming has finished, a small pouch (achene) with one seed will form.
Seed should be collected when capsules are starting to ripen. They should be stored in a zip-bag or sealed container in the refrigerator. If the seed fully dries out, it will not be viable. Do not get the seed wet, as it will rot. 
The root system of Rue Anemone consists of black thick fleshy and fibrous roots. They have been described as ‘yam-like’ in form.  Although one should refrain from consuming any part of Rue Anemone, as it is toxic to all mammals.
Comparison of Rue Anemone versus False Rue Anemone
There are two similar looking woodland wildflowers that look similar to Rue Anemone, and both share the common name, ‘False Rue Anemone’.
The first lookalike is Enemion biternatum. E. biternatum will only have 5 sepals (petals), while Rue Anemone usually has more than 5 (up to 6-9). And the leave arrangement is more alternate along the stalk, not whorled. For a visual explanation of leaf arrangements, see our guide here.
The second look alike is Anemone quinequefolia, which also has an overlapping native range and bloom time. The primary difference of A. quinequefolia with Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) is that the leaves of A. quinequefolia are serrated, while Rue Anemone leaves have smooth margins.
Grow and Care for Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone will grow best in dappled shade in Spring. Once trees leaf out, it will still generally survive in full shade. However, it requires some sunlight in Spring, and thus doesn’t do as well underneath evergreen trees.
Rue Anemone will grow in sandy loam to clay loam as long as it drains well. It doesn’t like wet feet.
For moisture, Rue Anemone will grow best in medium-moist to dry soil. It does well on slopes and ridges of Appalachia or deciduous forests (which generally drain well).
Rue Anemone is not aggressive. It blooms nice and doesn’t spread much. And, since it is so short it won’t bother anyone with the self-seeding that may occur.
But I repeat, it isn’t aggressive. I’ve encountered this flower hiking in areas that are rarely tread by people, and even large stands are not thick and the plants are generally well spaced.
Rue Anemone will not require supplemental fertilizer. If you are trying to grow this in poor soil that doesn’t have much organic matter, it may benefit from a few handfuls of compost to improve drainage and reduce compaction, but that is all.
How to Grow Rue Anemone from Seed
Note – if you collect Rue Anemone seed, you must store the seed refrigerated, in a sealed plastic container. Rue Anemone seed will die if it is stored in dry conditions.
Rue Anemone is one of the more difficult plants to grow from seed. It has been documented that it benefits from a double-dormancy period, which is a warm-moist period followed by a cold-moist period, then this cycle is repeated before germination would occur in a following Spring.
Still, germination is incredibly difficult. Note that the renowned research Denmo only had a 3% germination rate using fresh seed with a 3-month warm period (70F), 3-month cold-moist period (40F), and then another 3-month warm period at 70F. 
To direct sow Rue Anemone, it would be best to identify a location that would be suitable, without excessive competition from early invasive such as garlic mustard or chickweed. Then, direct sow in late Summer, knowing that it may be several years before any flowering may occur.
Now, regular readers of this site know that I really enjoy growing plants from seed. This is one I will be attempting in the coming year. Wish me luck!
Transplanting Rue Anemone
Due to it having shorter fibrous roots, Rue Anemone can be transplanted in early Spring right when plants are emerging from dormancy. It obviously helps to know where the plant is located prior to emergence, as these plants are tiny and difficult to locate. Also, it should go without saying, make sure you have permission before you go taking flowers.
But, simply dig a spade full of dirt underneath the clump. Try to get a full spade full, which should be at least 6″ diameter and several inches deep. Then, simply replant the clump to the desired location. It will grow as normal. Just make sure it is not in a wet location.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone will attract various bees and insects that feed on pollen. Charles Robertson documented 21 species of pollinators visiting Rue Anemone. Visitors are those that feed on pollen including various long-tongued bees, leaf-cutters, short-tongue bees, and pollinating flies. Additionally large butterflies have been documenting visiting the blooms in Spring.
Deer and Rabbits
Rue Anemone is generally not bothered by deer or rabbits. This is likely due to the small amount of foliage on the plant, and that it has a bitter taste and is slightly toxic.
Rue Anemone is generally not effected by disease. But if planted in moist conditions it can be eaten by slugs or be harmed from various fungal diseases.
Where you can buy Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone is not typically sold in nurseries, as most regular nurseries or big-box stores don’t carry flowers that go dormant in Summer. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.
Varieties of Rue Anemone
There are several cultivated varieties or Rue Anemone. The nursery industry has developed several double-flowered cultivars as well as green-flowered ones such as ‘Green Dragon’ and ‘Green Hurricane’.
Where to buy seeds
Seed for Rue Anemone is available, although often infrequently. Prairie Moon Nursery sometimes has it in stock. And one may also find it on Etsy or Ebay, although I would caution you on those sources, and only purchase from someone who is highly rated.
Uses of Rue Anemone
Rue Anemone is a perfect addition to any woodland or partial shade garden. This is one of the most obvious plants to grow in the deep woods where many other plants cannot. It can also grow in semi-shaded, or afternoon shaded area in grass that is mowed high enough.
Although it has a somewhat tuberous fleshy root, I have encountered it growing in rocks. How it got there? I have no idea. But it is interesting to see nonetheless.
The most obvious companion plants are other Spring Ephemerals such as Virginia Bluebells, Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, Trillium, and Violets. It also can pair nice amongst clumps of sedges or other shorter grass.
Rue Anemone was used by Native Americans sparingly, and this is probably because the entire plant is toxic. The only medicinal use I was able to document for Rue Anemone was by the Cherokee Tribe who used the root in medicine to either induce vomiting or as antidiarrheal. 
Rue Anemone is a showy woodland wildflower in early Spring. When the blooms flutter in the wind it is a peaceful and beautiful site. I always enjoy encountering a large patch on an early Spring hike after the long Winter, and welcome them as not so much a harbinger, but a confirmation that Spring has arrived.
 – Thalictrum thalictroides (L.) Eames & B. Boivin, USDA NRCS. Accessed 20APR2023
 – Barker, Joan, The encyclopedia of North American wild flowers, Bath : Parragon Pub., 2004, pp387
 – Hinkley, Daniel J, The explorer’s garden. Rare and unusual perennials, Portland, Or. : Timber Press, pp381
 – Phillips, Roger, The Botanical Garden, London : Macmillan, 2002, pp543
 – Lubbers, Anne E., and Norman L. Christensen. “Intraseasonal variation in seed production among flowers and plants of Thalictrum thalictroides (Ranunculaceae).” American Journal of Botany 73.2 (1986): 190-203. Accessed 28APR2023
 – Parker, Rosemarie. “When A Plant Does Not Return Your Affections–Thalictrum thalictroides.“, Florida Native Plant Society. 2004.
 – Robertson, Charles. “Flowers and insects; lists of visitors of four hundred and fifty-three flowers.” (1928).
 – Schmid, Wolfram George, An Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials, Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2002, pp379
 – Garrett, J. T., The Cherokee herbal : native plant medicine from the four directions, Rochester, Vt. : Bear & Company, 2003, pp281
 – North American Ethnobotany Database, Thalictrum thalictroides. Accessed 19APR2023.
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