Rue anemone is an early-flowering, delicate plant, usually growing singly. Flowers in small umbels (round clusters, with flower stalks arising from the same point) subtended by a whorl of nearly round, stalkless leaf bracts. Flowers variable, with 5–10 sepals that range from white to magenta-pink; sepals may be pointed or rounded. Stamens many, yellowish-green. Blooms March–June. Leaves basal on erect stems,3-lobed, much like the bracts. The basal leaves appear after flowering has begun.
Similar species: This flower is often confused with false rue anemone, Isopyrum biternatum. That species, however, has complete leaves on the flowering stems (not simply bracts); usually has only 5 sepals, which are always white (not pinkish); is usually found in colonies (not singly); and prefers moist bottomlands to wooded slopes.