Anemopsis californica

An ancient and unusual plant from North America

The flowers of this unusual aquatic plant, which seems to have become more popular in cultivation in recent years, are held in an inflorescence (flower head) that is said by some to resemble a single anemone flower. I can’t see it myself, and suspect that this is based on an assumption as to the origin of the name Anemopsis, when in fact the name has nothing to do with anemones.  The genus was initially named Anemia until it was pointed out that this name was already taken by a group of ferns, and so it was later changed to Anemopsis.

Anemopsis californica (a member of the Saururaceae family) belongs to an ancient group of flowering plants, the magnoliids, which are characterised by flower parts in multiples of 3 (like the monocots, but unlike most other dicots) and which also includes the nutmeg, laurel, custard apple, black pepper and magnolia families. In fact, if anything the inflorescence reminds me of a single magnolia flower although unlike magnolias, which have large, solitary flowers, Anemopsis californica flowers are tiny and arranged on short spikes, at the base of which are 6 large, petal-like bracts, reminiscent of the petals of a Magnolia stellata flower.

Anemopsis californica in my London pond.
Leaves are mostly arranged in a basal whorl, with pinnate veins (separate veins along each side of the midrib). Tiny flowers are arranged on a dense, conical head 1-4cm long, surrounded by 6 petal-like bracts, such that the inflorescence superficially resembles a single star magnolia flower.
Anemopsis californica - hairy leaf stalks
Leaf stalks are hairy.
Anemopsis californica - flowering stems
Flowering stems are up to 50cm long, with a stalk-less clasping leaf in the upper half and 1-3 smaller leaves in the axil.
Anemopsis californica - detail showing individual flowers
Each individual flower on the spike has a small white bract at the base, and has 6 stamens and 3 styles.

In the wild, Anemopsis californica grows in southwestern USA and Mexico, where it forms dense stands in wet, alkaline soils. The leaves, creeping stems and roots are aromatic and contain essential oils which are thought to have medicinal qualities. In our garden, it is content growing in a submerged basket pot in the pond, along with fellow North American aquatic Penthorum sedoides, where it flowers in summer and autumn.

Field of Anemopsis californica growing in the wild in California.
Field of Anemopsis californica in the San Dieguito River Park in Escondido, Southern California. (Source: Wikimedia, public domain).
Anemopsis californica flower heads.
Anemopsis californica growing in our pond with Thalia dealbata.
Anemopsis distribution Placeholder
Anemopsis distribution

Countries where Anemopsis californica grows in the wild.