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

Rue Anemones (Thalictrum thalictroides) and Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) are early spring flowering plants of the Ranunculaceae family. They both bloom in spring and produce papery white blooms, so distinguishing one from the other can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what to look for.  

The easiest way to identify Rue Anemones and Wood Anemones is by looking at their flowers and leaves. Rue Anemones grow multiple flowers in one stalk, while Wood Anemones only grow one. Rue Anemones have rounded flowers, whereas Wood Anemones have star-shaped flowers.

In this Rue Anemone vs. Wood Anemone comparison guide, we’ll list all the similarities and differences between the two species to help you distinguish them better.

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 herbaceous perennial plants with delicate-looking flowers. They’re native to woodland areas in eastern North America, and bloom between March and June.

Growing between four to eight inches tall, Rue Anemones are adorned with more than five petal-like sepals and a dense cluster of pistils. They grow atop reddish-brown stems and nestled above a whorl of hairless, three-lobed green leaves.

Like most spring plants, Rue Anemones fall dormant in the summer. They grow in almost any kind of soil as long as it’s well-drained but prefer humus-rich and moderately fertile soil. They’re drought-resistant so they don’t need much watering, except for periods of extensive dry weather.

Rue Anemones are easy to grow and cultivate. They’re generally pest and disease free, and look stunning in woodland gardens, wildflower gardens, and rock gardens.

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Brief Overview of Wood Anemone

Wood Anemone
  • Botanical name: Anemone nemorosa
  • Common name: Wood Anemone, Moonflower, Lady’s Nightcap, Old Woman’s Nest, Wood Windflower, Wood Crowfoot
  • Family: Ranunculaceae
  • Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Mature size: 2 to 6 inches tall

Wood Anemones are herbaceous perennial plants native to North America and parts of Europe. They’re smaller than Rue Anemones, growing between two to six inches tall as opposed to six to nine inches. They stand on short, upright stems with leaves divided into three lobes.

Blooming early to late spring, Wood Anemones grow in massive clusters in shaded areas. They go dormant in summer as temperatures rise.

Like Rue Anemones, Wood Anemones grow in humus-rich, fertile soil in part shade. They’re not too picky with soil pH but prefer slightly acidic soil. They require consistently moist (but not waterlogged) soil during the growing season. They offer some drought tolerance during dormancy.

Rue Anemone vs. Wood Anemone: Similarities and Differences

Here are the distinguishing qualities of Rue Anemones and Wood Anemones:

Appearance

Rue Anemones are the bigger cousins of Wood Anemones. They stand between six to nine inches tall but can grow up to 12 inches when planted in suitable conditions.

The flowers measure one inch across and contain five to ten petal-like sepals, which are rounded at the tip. In the middle, numerous yellow-tipped stamens can be found.

Rue Anemones come in varying shades of white and pink. Their leaves are long and contain three groups of three leaflets, which, again, are rounded. Both leaves and stems are hairless.

Wood Anemones look much like Rue Anemones but smaller. Their flowers are less than an inch in diameter and contain six or seven (and on rare occasions, eight to ten) petal-like sepals. The petals are equally spaced, making them appear star-like.

They come in the colors white, pink, and blue, with the former being the most common. Their stamens are tipped in white or yellow and surround a green center.  

Like Rue Anemones, their leaves come in groups of three. The leaves resemble the appearance of a palmate plant, with leaflets branching outwards from the end of the petiole. The leaflets are one and a half inches long, and covered in fine hairs.

Growth Requirements

Rue Anemones and Wood Anemones have similar growth requirements, so they can be planted in the same garden or greenhouse. They’re both low-maintenance plants and don’t require much attention other than the occasional watering.

Both species need to be planted in moist but well-draining soil. Any type of soil will do, but they have a preference for humus-rich or sandy soil. They benefit from the addition of two to three inches of leaf mulch, compost, or bark chips before planting.

When planted in rich, organic soil, both species don’t need fertilizer. They need to be planted in partially shaded areas as the full sun may burn the plant. When it goes into dormancy, they can tolerate full shade.

Rue Anemone

Habitat

Rue Anemones and Wood Anemones grow wild in mature deciduous woodland, as well as meadows and hedgerows.

Rue Anemones are native to Eastern North America and can be found in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Minnesota, Maine, and Arkansas.

In comparison, Wood Anemones are native to the British Isles and some parts of Europe. They grow in ancient woodland across the UK, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. In the US, they’re found in clusters that extend as far west as North Dakota and as far south as Alabama.

Unlike Rue Anemones, which are only found in deciduous woodlands, Wood Anemones can be spotted along shaded riverbanks, roadside verges, and hedge banks. They also grow in open ground under bracken, heathland, in Gryches of limestone pavement, and on mountain/sea cliffs.

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Final Thoughts

Rue Anemones and Wood Anemones may look similar at first glance, but if you pay attention to the flowers and leaves, you’ll notice subtle differences between the two.

Rue Anemones are larger than Wood Anemones, measuring one inch in diameter and up to 12 inches in height. The flowers bloom in round clusters, subtended by a whorl of equal road, hairless leaf bracts.

Wood Anemones have star-like white flowers with five to eight petals and deeply divided lateral leaflets. Non-flowering plants have five sets of leaves, while flowering plants have three.