Starry Eyed

Walking through Leomansley Wood (or was it Sloppy Wood? I’m never sure where one stops and the other starts), I came across hundreds of wood anemones growing alongside Leomansley Brook. Up until now, I can only ever remember seeing two small patches of these pretty star like flowers – one near to the path that skirts the edge of the woods and the other near to the old mill culvert on Pipe Green.  As they are growing in one of the muddier areas of the woods (actually it was probably Sloppy Wood!), it may be that I’ve always missed them, having turned off to find a drier route. At the risk of sounding like one of the motivational sayings people share on Facebook, it just shows that sometimes it’s worth persevering with the trickier path!

Anemones in Leomansley

As well as their obvious beauty, the thing I love about wildflowers is their associated folklore and their alternative names. Nicholas Culpeper tells me that the anemome, “is called the windflower because they say the flowers never open unless the wind bloweth”. Wet weather has the opposite effect, and the flower also closes as night falls, giving rise to the story that fairies use anemones both as somewhere to shelter from the rain, and somewhere to sleep, tucked beneath the petals.

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For superstitious folk, I imagine that disturbing sleeping fairies was probably best avoided and may be why it’s generally considered unlucky to pick the plant, especially here in Staffordshire. According to Roy Vickery,  the wood anemone was known as ‘thunderbolt’ in the county, because, as as the name suggests, picking it would result in a storm. Mr Vickery also relays the experience of the Rev E Deacon, a member of the North Staffordshire Field Club in 1930.  One day, Deacon arrived at a farm where a wedding party was taking place. Apparently, the expression of the smiling person who opened the door changed to one of alarm when he or she realised that Mr Deacon had brought bad luck to the wedding in the form of a wood anemone in his lapel.

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Along with several other species, including bluebells which are just starting to appear, anemones are indicator species of ancient woodland i.e. one which has been around since 1600AD. The way I understand it, their presence in Leomansley Wood isn’t proof that it is an ancient woodland (or more accurately, a replanted ancient woodland, where the area has been continuously wooded but trees have been felled and replanted), but a suggestion that it might be. Ancient or not, it’s always a beautiful place for a walk but especially at this time of year.

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Edit: you know how in Finding Nemo, he can’t say anemone? Well ‘m having trouble spelling it – anemone, that’s right isn’t it?

Sources:

Roy Vickery, Oxford Dictionary of Plant Lore

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2 thoughts on “Starry Eyed

  1. There is an amazing book published in 1996 and written by Richard Mabey…Flora Britannica. It is a survey of wildflowers from all over Britain, including folklore contributions from the public.

    Here is what it says of the Wood anemone…

    (Windflower, Grandmother’s nightcap, Moggie nightgown)

    One of the earliest spring flowers, and one of the most faithful indicators of ancient woodland. It’s seed in Britain is rarely fertile and, even when it is, does not stay viable for long. Instead, this plant spreads at a snail’s pace, no more than 6 feet each hundred years, through the growth of its root structure. Wood anemone is consequently a very confined plant, rarely extending its territory beyond its ancient traditional sites. These are usually in long-established woodland, though in the West Country it is also abundant in hedge-banks. Elsewhere it is frequent in ancient meadowland; and in the Yorkshire Dales, for instance, in limestone pavements. In many of these places the colonies may be relics of previous woodland cover, but the wildflower’s liking for light suggests that it may not be a plant of purely woodland origins. It will not grow in deep shade and opens its blooms fully only in sunshine.

    On warm days in early April, a large colony of anemones can fill the air with a sharp, musky smell, which is hinted at in some old local names such as “smell foxes”. Most of these names are now obsolete, but there are at least two comparatively new ones, “moggie nightgown” in parts of Derbyshire (in Stanley Common and moggie is a mouse, not a cat) and the delightful, if not especially appropriate, children’s miss-hearing,”wooden enemies”.

    Colonies of wood anemones with purple or purple streaked petals are quite frequent, e.g. in Wayland Wood, Norfolk, the site of the Babes in the Wood legend. But the sky blue form, var. caerulea, is much rarer, and may have been lost. It was a great favourite of the 19th century pioneer of ‘wild gardening’, William Robinson, who was careful to distinguish it from the occasionally naturalised European blue anemone, A. apennina.

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