By James Lakin, M.D., Master Gardener
If you have a difficult slope that never grows grass, a clay or sandy patch that defies seeding with bluegrass or fescue, consider the Canada anemone. Anemone canadensis is otherwise known as meadow anemone, crowfoot or round leaf anemone. It’s a tough guy, found native throughout the Upper Midwest, most commonly on river banks, flood plains or low moist meadows. It provides an excellent groundcover in medium to moist soils. Although it will self-seed, it spreads primarily by rhizomes. This it does rapidly and will form good coverage in two growing seasons with proper conditions.
As it is a vigorous grower, it can muscle out other low growing plants unless managed. If you need to contain this anemone, garden edging that goes 6 to 8 inches into the ground should do the trick. Once established, its attractive bright green foliage is graced with lovely white flowers in May, June and early July. The plant’s height usually is less than one foot and it can be mowed lower. It does well in full sun to partial shade. It seems that the cooler the environment, the more sun it will tolerate. Canada anemone settles in nicely in a variety of clay, sand or loam soils. It is hardy to Zone 3 through 6 to 7 although it prefers the cooler, more northern climes. Drier soils and hotter temperatures further south than central Illinois can be a problem.
The plant’s name derives from Greek mythology. The nymph Anemone, like the plant, was quite a looker. She attracted the devoted attentions of the God of the West Wind, Zephyr. Unfortunately for all concerned, Zephyr was married to Chloris or in Roman nomenclature, Flora the goddess of flowers and springtime. Needless to say, Flora was miffed at Zephyr’s philandering. She terminated the relationship by turning Anemone into the eponymous flower. Ancient Greece being the strongly patriarchal society that it was, legend is silent as to how Zephyr fared.
Like Zephyr, you would be well advised to exercise circumspection in your choices. In selecting ground covers most nurseries offer a variety of aggressive Asian or European imports, commonly Vinca minor or periwinkle. Vinca like so many other non-natives can escape cultivation and invade natural areas. Although Canada anemone is also a hardy grower it strikes a balance in the wild and coexists with other native species in a balanced ecology. Another significant benefit of planting a native such as Anemone canadensis rather than an import is Anemone’s contribution to pollinators. The flowers offer both abundant nectar and nutrient-rich pollen. Vinca, in contrast provides little attraction to native pollinators.
For a low-maintenance, vigorous, hardy and attractive groundcover you could do well to consider the native Canada anemone.