Documenting Diversity at the Katharine Ordway Natural History Study Area
Thalictrum thalictroides, the Rue Anemone
Common names: rue anemone, windflower
Synonyms: Anemonella thalictroides, Syndesmon thalictroides
Thalictrum thalictroides is a low growing herbaceous plant that is
usually four to nine inches tall (see Figure 1). Its stem and leaves
are smooth, without fine hairs, and the leaves are ternately-compound,
meaning each leaf is divided into three, and then into three once more,
for a total of nine leaflets per leaf. The leaflets are round to
ovular, each having three rounded lobes (see Figure 2). The leaves are
sessile, branching from the base of the plant, and the leaflets have
long stalks called petioles. Other leaves grow in a whorl around the
flower base and are similar to the leaves that grow out of the base of
the plant because of their sessile, long petioles. The roots of T.
thalictroides are tuberous and grow in a cluster (see Figure 3).
The flowers of T. thalictroides grow in an umbel, meaning that the
supporting stalk of each flower grows from a central stem that supports
several flowers (see Figure 4). Within the genus Thalictrum, T.
thalictroides is the only species that has its flowers arranged in an
umbel.1 This characteristic is the reason for the plant’s continued
placement in the genus Anemonella by some botanists.1 The plant’s
flowers are white to pinkish, with 5-10 petal-like sepals. Within the
subfamily Thalictroideae, Thalictrum is one of two genera that do not
have petals.2 Historically, botanists and plant taxonomists thought
that the ancestral Thalictroideae did not have petals, but recent
research has provided evidence that the ancestral Thalictroideae had
petals and they have been lost on two separate occasions – in the
genera Thalictrum and Enemion.2The anthers are yellow (see Figures 3
Thalictrum thalictroides is similar in appearance to Isopyrum
biternatum (False Rue Anemone). One can distinguish T. thalictroides
from I. biternatum by the outgrowths that I. biternatum has on each
side of the stem where the leafstalk joins; these outgrowths are called
stipules. I. biternatum also has deeper lobed leaflets than T.
The word “anemonella” means “small windflower” in Greek which refers to
the resemblance of T. thalictroides flowers to another woodland
flowering plant called, anemone.3 The name “thalictroides” comes from
the characteristic three lobed leaflets that T. thalictroides shares
with another woodland flowering plant called meadow rue.3 The common
name “rue anemone”, therefore, comes from the similarities that T.
thalictroides shares with anemone and meadow rue.3
Thalictrum thalictroides grows in eastern deciduous forests. As a
ground cover species, it emerges from the leaf-covered ground in early
spring and spreads along the forest floor. T. thalictroides is a member
of the Ranunculaceae or Buttercup family, which is known for its
complex chemical components in addition to its ornamental values.4 The
varied chemical composition and time of emergence of members of this
family contribute to the family’s connections with animals including
being browsed by herbivorous animals like deer in the spring when
little other food is available and being cultivated by humans for its
medicinal and aesthetic properties.4 Specifically, T. thalictroides is
known for its use by American Indians who made tea from the roots of
the plant that and then consumed it for the treatment of diarrhea and
vomiting.5 The roots have also been used as an experimental treatment
for piles by physicians historically.5 T. thalictroides is also
cultivated and hybridized by humans for its aesthetic properties.
Thalictrum thalictroides is a perennial, meaning that it grows from its
root year after year for more than two years, and blooms from March to
May.5 This species is called a spring ephemeral because it is one of
the first plants to grow on the forest floor in early spring. In this
manner, spring ephemerals take advantage of the readily available light
before the leaves unfold on the trees, shading the understory. The
plant blooms early in spring, sets seed, and then is dormant for the
remainder of the growing season.3
Flowers are perfect, meaning that they have pistils, where the female
gametophyte is produced, and stamens, where the male gametophyte is
produced.6 Flowers are insect pollinated as evidenced by their
colorful, attractive flowers. After fertilization, T. thalictroides
produces dry capsules called achenes that enclose its seeds.7 The
achenes are sessile and pointed at the tip becoming 4-6 inches long
Thalictrum thalictroides is found in deciduous forests throughout the
eastern United States and southern Canada including New Hampshire and
Massachusetts to Florida, Ontario, Minnesota and Kansas.
The conservation status of T. thalictroides in its native range is
common, widespread, and abundant.8 In some states throughout its range,
however, it is considered critically imperiled, including Florida,
Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, because it is very
rare or because factors such as rapid decline have left its populations
very vulnerable to extinction.8 The population of T. thalictroides in
Minnesota has not been ranked.8
This specimen was collected in a woodland area from the forest floor at
the Katherine Ordway Natural History Study Area (KONHSA) in Inver Grove
Heights, Minnesota on April 15, 2010. The specimen was growing out of
the leaf litter and was the only blooming plant in the forest at that
time. The ground was very moist as it had rained the morning the
specimen was collected.
1. Floras of North America. www.efloras.org
2. Wang, W. and Z. D. Chen. 2007. Generic level
phylogeny of Thalictroideae (Ranunculaceae) - implications for the
taxonomic status of Paropyrum and petal evolution. TAXON 56(3):811-821.
3. Missouri Botanical Garden, Kemper Center for Home and Gardening. www.mobot.org
4. Cai, Y. et al. 2009. Molecular phylogeny of
Ranunculaceae based on internal transcribed spacer sequences. African
Journal of Biotechnology 8(20):5215-5224.
5. Foster, S., J. A. Duke, and S. Foster. 2000. A
field guide to medicinal plants and herbs of eastern and central North
America. Peterson field guide series. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
6. Newcomb, L. 1977. Newcomb's Wildflower guide: An
ingenious new key system for quick, positive field identification of
the wildflowers, flowering shrubs and vines of Northeastern and North
Central North America. Boston: Little, Brown.
7. Gleason, H. A. & N. L. Britton. 1963. The new
Britton and Brown illustrated flora of the northeastern United States
and adjacent Canada. New York: Published for the New York Botanical
Garden by Hafner Pub.
8. Nature Serve Explore. 2009. http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/
Compiled by Zoe Hastings.
Biodiversity & Evolution (BIOL 270) Professr Sarah Boyer. Spring 2010
Specimen collected at Macalester College’s Katharine Ordway Natural History Study Area on April 15, 2010.