French anemones

French Anemone

Coy anemone that ne’er uncloses
Her lips until they’re blown on by the wind.

Horace Smith, Amarynthus

Some lovely bluish purple anemones have just finished flowering in my garden. The Latin name for these flowers is Anemone coronaria and they have several common names, including Poppy anemone, French anemone, windflower, florist’s anemone and cutleaf anemone. The anemone’s home is in Turkey, however, skilled gardeners from Caen in France, have worked for generations to create today’s beautiful French anemone. Grown from small corms, the flowers come in white or in vibrant shades of purple or poppy red.

Anemone coronaria bulbs are classified as single-flowered and double-flowered cultivars. Single-flowered cultivars are referred to collectively as De Caen cultivars; double cultivars are called St. Brigid cultivars.

The Abbé la Pluche relates a curious anecdote of M. Bachelier, a Parisian florist, who, having imported some very beautiful species of the Anemone from the East Indies to Paris, kept them to himself in so miserly a manner, that for ten successive years he never would give to any friend or relation whomsoever the least fibre of a double Anemone, or the root of one single one. A counsellor of the parliament, vexed to see one man hoard up for himself a benefit which nature intended to be common to all, paid him a visit at his country house, and in walking round the garden, when he came to a bed of his Anemones, which were at that time in seed, artfully let his robe fall upon them; by which device he swept off a considerable number of the little grains, which stuck fast to it. His servant, whom he had purposely instructed, dexterously wrapped them up in a moment without exciting any attention. The counsellor a short time after communicated to his friends the success of his project, and by their participation of his innocent theft the flower became generally known.

–Gilbert Thomas Burnett (1800 – 1835), An Encyclopaedia of Useful and Ornamental Plants

Anemones are members of family Ranunculaceae, the buttercup family. A surprising number of my favourite flowers belong to this family: hellebores, Clematis, monkshood (Aconitum) , Persian buttercups (Ranunculus), globeflower (Trollius), meadow rue (Thalictrum), Delphinium and larkspur, to name a few. Many of these plants are poisonous.

The name “anemone” comes from “Anemoi”: the Greek gods of the directional winds (North, West, South and East). In mythology, the origin of the anemone is the sorrow felt by Aphrodite when Adonis died. Her tears fell to earth where they were transformed into flowers to immortalize her great love for Adonis. Another version of the story is that the flowers came from the blood of Adonis, falling to earth after he was killed by a wild boar. This conjures up the vision of an entire field of red anemones: a breathtaking sight, as you can see in this photograph of a field in Israel.

[French anemones] have a strange legendary history. During the time of the Crusades Bishop Umberto of Pisa, after blessing the soldiers leaving for the war, directed the seamen who were conveying them to bring back soil taken from the Holy Land as ships ballast – instead of the usual sea-shore sand. This was later spread over the Campo Sancta at Pisa ‘to bury the honoured dead’, but the following spring to everyone’s amazement became carpeted with scarlet Anemones. This miraculous event caused the plants to be known as ‘Blood Drops of Christ’ and under this name they spread across Europe.

–Frances Perry, Flowers of the World

These anemones like full sun and a sheltered location. They can be grown in containers. At night or on cloudy days, the flower closes, a response to darkness known as  “nyctinasty”. The plants may do this to keep pollen dry and contained, waiting for brighter conditions when pollinating insects are active.

In the language of flowers, the meaning of Anemone is “forsaken”.

“French Anemones”, watercolour, 9″ x 12-1/4″

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12 thoughts on “French anemones

  1. Lovely post! That’s the other aspect that makes plants fascinating (for me)- all related, events, stories, real or unreal and everything else that emerges again from their beauty – like your painting!
    I bought my first Anemone coronaria this year, it did flower for weeks on end.

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    • Yes, your anemone photo is lovely. I see you’ve done a great post on Shooting Star (Dodecatheon) as well. We really seem to be on the same wavelength, as I’ve just done a painting and post on Shooting Star. And, while you are watching out for plant-destroying badgers, I’m doing the same for deer and rabbits.

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  2. What a fabulous story about the counsellor. I must admit to being a flower thief too. I almost fell off a wall trying to steal a very late-blooming gardenia yesterday. Really, I thought, gardenias are meant to be inhaled, not to flower unsmelt ten foot from the ground!

    I admire the beautiful layering of your posts, Mrs Daffodil. This one’s a very fine specimen.

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