Rue Anemone vs. False Rue Anemone: What’s the Difference?

For budding naturalists, Rue Anemones and False Rue Anemones can be tough to distinguish. They look near-identical in appearance and grow in similar shady woodland habitats. So, this begs the question: what exactly is the difference between Rue Anemone vs. False Rue Anemone?

The difference between the two species lies in their petals and leaves. Rue Anemones have more than five petals while False Rue Anemones only have five. Moreover, Rue Anemones can have as many as 15 carpels in the center of the flower, whereas False Rue Anemones have no more than six.

In this article, we’ll discuss the similarities and differences between the two species, including appearance, care, and growth.

Brief Overview of Rue Anemone

  • Botanical name: Thalictrum thalictroides (previously Anemonella thalictroides)
  • Common name: Rue Anemone, windflower
  • Family: Ranunculaceae
  • Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Mature size: 5 to 9 inches tall, 6 to 9 inches wide

Rue Anemones, also known as windflowers, are delicate, early-flowering plants native to the woodlands of eastern North America. They grow from a cluster of tuberous roots, with upright stems that end in round clusters of flowers. The flowers have five to ten sepals and usually come in shades of white, pink, magenta, or lilac.

Derived from the Greek word anemo, meaning “wind” or literally “daughter of the wind,” Rue Anemones are among the many showy wildflowers that grow in deciduous woodlands. They thrive in partial sunlight during spring but tolerate considerable shade later in the year. Thus, they’re best planted under deciduous tree canopies.  

Rue Anemones are fairly easy to take care of. They can cope with a variety of soil types, but have a preference for loose, sandy, or humus-rich soil. They don’t need much water to survive since they’re drought-tolerant but keeping them moderately moist extends their bloom period.

Rue Anemone

Brief Overview of False Rue Anemone

  • Botanical name: Enemion biternatum (previously Isopyrum biternatum)
  • Common name: False rue-anemone
  • Family: Ranunculaceae
  • Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Mature size: 4 to 16 inches

False Rue Anemones are perennial plants that grow from thick, fibrous roots. They’re native to moist deciduous woodlands in the southernmost end of Ontario and the eastern United States.

To the untrained eye, Rue Anemones and False Rue Anemones are near-identical in appearance. Like “true” Rue Anemones, False Rue Anemones flower loose clusters of white blooms.

But closer inspection shows that False Rue Anemones have complete leaves rather than bracts on the flowering stems and only five sepals. Their leaves split into three segments, with each segment containing three leaflets.

Moreover, False Rue Anemones are often found in large colonies while Rue Anemones are found singly.

False Rue Anemones grow much like Rue Anemones. They both appear in early spring and grow in wooded areas, with the exception that False Rue Anemones are more likely to be found in moist bottomlands.

Like Rue Anemones, False Rue Anemones prefer loose, humus-rich, well-drained soil. They bloom in massive clusters during spring and fall dormant during summer. They thrive in partial shade but tolerate full shade when they enter dormancy.

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Rue Anemone vs. False Rue Anemone: Similarities and Differences

Rue Anemones and False Rue Anemones are strikingly similar in appearance. If you don’t know where to look, differentiating the two can pose a bit of a challenge. Here are some similarities and differences between these species:


Rue Anemones hold their flowers in a cluster of leaf-like bracts in three to six groups. They have between five to ten petaloid sepals, which are often pinkish in color.

On the other hand, False Rue Anemones have singly leafed axils and no more than five sepals, which are white in color. Their leaflets are more deeply lobed than Rue Anemones, divided into two to three parts, with each lobe notched at the tip.

Basal leaves are long and stalked, and stems are hairless, reddish, and slender. They multiply from the base and create small colonies from short rhizomes.

Rue Anemones don’t grow in clusters and instead grow singly on wooded slopes. They have three-lobed leaves that are arranged in rounded, smooth whorls.

Growth Requirements

Rue Anemones and False Rue Anemones grow under similar conditions. Thus, they’re perfect companions in gardens and greenhouses.

They can be planted in any type of soil as long as it’s well-draining, but perform best in humus-rich, loose, or sandy soil. They’re not too picky with soil pH, either, but prefer neutral or slightly acidic soil.

Both species must be planted in partial shade. When they go dormant in summer, full shade isn’t a problem. They’re drought-tolerant, so they can cope without too much moisture. However, leaving them in overly dry conditions can trigger their dormancy earlier than normal, so make sure the soil is moist at all times.

If grown in suitable conditions, Rue Anemones and False Rue Anemones don’t need to be fertilized as the flowers fertilize themselves. Compost is welcome, but not necessary.

Rue Anemone flowers

Natural Habitat

Rue Anemones and False Rue Anemones grow in similar habitats. In the wild, they’re found at the base of wooded slopes or wooded bottomlands.

That said, False Rue Anemones are more likely to be found in moist bottomlands. They grow in large colonies with other spring ephemerals in the area.

Rue Anemones can be spotted in the woodlands of the eastern United States, from New York to Florida. False Rue Anemones are found in similar locations. In Wisconsin, they grow in most areas except for in the farthest north.

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Final Thoughts

Distinguishing Rue Anemones from False Rue Anemones isn’t an easy task. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for professionals to mistake one for the other.

The biggest differences between the two lie in their sepals and leaves. Rue Anemones have more than five sepals, while False Rue Anemones have no more than five.

Moreover, Rue Anemones have rounded, whorled leaves underneath their flowers, whereas False Rue Anemones have serrated, tooth-like foliage.

And finally, Rue Anemones come in shades of white and pink, while False Rue Anemones are pure white.