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So many people ask me why would gardeners want to grow aconite’s in their garden considering how toxic this plant is.
The honest answer is, for many reasons – and below I will explain more.
- Why Would Gardeners Want To Grow Aconitums In Their Garden? Reason #1
- Why Would Gardeners Want To Grow Aconitums In Their Garden? Reason #2
- Why Would Gardeners Want To Grow Aconitums In Their Garden? Reason #3
- My Final Thoughts On Why Would Gardeners Want To Grow Aconitums In Their Garden?
- Cuckoo pint
- Deadly nightshade
- How to grow wolfsbane
- Aconitum Monkshood: What Is The Best Way To Grow Monkshood In The Garden
- Aconitum Monkshood Info
- What Is the Best Way to Grow Monkshood
- A Warning About Aconitum Monkshood
- Top 10 Most Poisonous Plants
Why Would Gardeners Want To Grow Aconitums In Their Garden? Reason #1
One of the biggest reasons gardeners want to grow aconites in their garden is because of the how late the plant blooms in the fall.
The typical blooming time is October, however I have seen this plant bloom as early as September in my garden and as late as November.
My garden is located in USDA Hardiness Zone 5/6, depending on what hardiness zone map you look at.
The deep blue color really stands out and catches your attention not to mention, other than Hellebores, there is not much in bloom in gardens in colder climates during this late fall and early winter months.
Why Would Gardeners Want To Grow Aconitums In Their Garden? Reason #2
Due to the toxicity of this plant, I do not mess with it.
I bought it back in 2005, I planted it and I have let it do it’s own thing for the most part, other than one transplant because I planted it near a walkway originally.
I did dig it up, making sure I was wearing gloves, and moved it to the center of the flower bed where no one would be walking.
It is so easy to care for because it takes care of itself and that is another reason why gardeners want to grow aconites in their garden.
Let’s face it, growing plants that are picky and take a lot of care is not what most gardeners want in their gardens.
Once you get aconites established, they are one of the easiest to care for perennial plants I have ever grown and best of all, they are not invasive in my garden.
Why Would Gardeners Want To Grow Aconitums In Their Garden? Reason #3
Some gardeners like to have poisonous plant gardens or simply add toxic plants into their regular garden.
Sometimes it is about the lore or history of the plant, sometimes it is sheer curiosity.
I have to admit that the toxic nature of aconites caught my attention and that is one reason why I grow it.
I do warn garden visitors not to touch the plant and tell them about the toxicity.
I also share stories I have read about people dying from just touching the plant to drive the point home that this is a plant to be looked at and not touched.
My Final Thoughts On Why Would Gardeners Want To Grow Aconitums In Their Garden?
I am one of those gardeners who grow aconites in my garden – for all of the reasons above.
I cannot wait to see the purple blue flowers blooming late in the season.
I like the way the foliage looks in the summer garden.
I like the fact that this is a plant that not everyone wants to grow – or should grow in their garden.
I do not recommend this plant for anyone who has small children around or for anyone who has a lot of garden tours unless you can find a way to make sure no one touches the plant.
I highly recommend the following articles:
- Fall Blooming Perennials Roundup
- How To Successfully Grow Mums
- Garden Flower Ideas For Late Summer
- 3 Quick Fall Garden Tasks To Do Now
Aconitum napellus ssp. lusitanicum
- Name also: Common Monk’s Hood, Aconite, Wolfsbane, Wolf’s Bane, Wolf’s-bane, Fuzi, Monk’s Blood, Venus’ Chariot, Blue Rocket, Friar’s Cap, Auld Wife’s Huid
- Family: Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Taproot tuberous.
- Height: 0.8–1.5 m (32–60 in.). Upper part of stalk hairy.
- Flower: Perianth zygomorphic, dark violet, approx. 2 cm (0.8 in.) high. Sepals 5, petaloid, uppermost helmet-shaped, usually a little broader than tall, densely hairy and greyish. 2 nectariferous tepals inside helmet. Stamens many. Gynoecium with separate leaves, pistils usually 3. Inflorescence unbranched or lightly branched at base, densely short-haired or sometimes glabrous raceme.
- Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves long-stalked, stem leaves short-stalked–stalkless. Blade often hairy on top, 3-lobed until base, lobes narrow, tapered and deeply lobed.
- Fruit: Arching, glabrous, terminated by a short bristle, approx. 17 mm (0.68 in.) long follicle, of which usually 3 united. In each follicle 10–15 seeds with winged edges.
- Habitat: Yards, parks, banks, wasteland, broad-leaved forests and stream banks. Ornamental, quite rare in the wild, but it can survive a long time.
- Flowering time: June–September.
Monkshoods protect themselves against predators with a cocktail of poison that contains aconite, as is evident from the plant’s scientific name, and other closely related alkaloids. The plant guards its rootstock very carefully, but in fact all the aerial parts are poisonous too. Monkshood’s poison has been known for a long time and tinctures were already being used in ancient times as e.g. poison for arrow tips. In the dawn of Western civilization Romans, Greeks and Arabs had the ability to use monkshood in warfare, disposing of wild beasts, not to mention bumping off troublesome spouses, political enemies and other foes.
A few grams of monkshood’s root doesn’t look like much, but it’s enough to cause dreadful symptoms which result in an extremely painful death within a couple of hours. On the other hand, the correct dosage of monkshood’s root and pure aconite can be used as a painkiller for aches, to prevent infections and to widen the veins to treat e.g. coronary disease. Although monkshood is said to be less poisonous in cold countries than warm ones, it wouldn’t be a good idea to start experimenting.
Aconitum x stoerkianum
Handsome monkshoods are usually cultivated in gardens as ornamentals. Popular species in Finland apart from monkshood itself are varigated monkshood, whose flower colour changes according to the variety from blue and white flecks to purple. Northern wolfsbane (named also northern monkshood, A. lycoctonum) can also be found growing in the wild in Finland. Above its flower a helmet-shaped tepal is clearly higher than it is on its relatives, and its leaves are less lobed. It too is sometimes cultivated in gardens, although not everyone is convinced of its beauty. When not flowering, monkshoods can be mixed also with candle larkspur (Delphinum elatum).
Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family
Trees and bushes from the same family
Serious poisoning by plants is very rare in the UK so the death of a gardener in Hampshire after brushing against a deadly flower was extremely unusual.
Despite the British countryside’s genteel reputation there are a surprisingly large amount of poisonous plants growing both in the wild and in gardens. Some just cause discomfort, but others have the potential to kill. Here are five to watch out for.
Wolfsbane belongs to the plant genus Aconitum, a group of plants which are all poisonous. The native plant, also called monkshood, has large leaves with rounded lobes and purple hooded flowers. Although it can be found throughout the UK, cases of accidental poisoning are very rare. Still, people plant it in their gardens, possibly unaware of the potential hazard.
Beautiful but deadly: Wolfsbane. Randi Hausken, CC BY
It is one of the most toxic plants that can be found in the UK, the toxins in the plant can cause a slowing of the heart rate which can be fatal and even eating a very small amount can lead to an upset stomach. But its poison can also act through contact with the skin, particularly if there are open wounds. The roots are thought to be especially poisonous but even so, people have been known to eat the roots and survive so it is very difficult to know how much contact is needed to kill someone.
As with any poisonous plant, the best way to avoid it is to learn to recognise what it looks like. Once you can recognise it then you can make sure you don’t eat it and only handle it with gloves on.
Foxglove grows in woodlands and hedgerows. It is a common garden plant, popular due to its tall purple flowers. Its large soft leaves grow in a rosette.
Foxglove. Brian Eastop, CC BY
If any part of the plant is eaten it causes vomiting and diarrhoea together with other unpleasant symptoms, and just like wolfsbane it can slow the heart down causing heart attacks. Even contact can cause irritation to the skin.
However, foxglove has saved more lives than it has cost as drugs derived from the plant are used to treat heart conditions.
Cuckoo pint. Phil Sellens
The cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum) or lords and ladies, is found growing in woodlands and hedgerows. Its flowers are poker-shaped surrounded by a green leaf-like hood but it is the bright red and orange berries of this plant that are poisonous.
If eaten, the berries cause irritation in the mouth and throat which leads to swelling and pain and can result in difficulty breathing. It also causes an upset stomach.
As its name suggests, deadly nightshade is another poisonous plant. Deadly nightshade is most common in central, southern and eastern England but is also found less commonly in other parts of the UK. It is a shrubby plant with purple bell-shaped flowers and shiny black berries.
Deadly nightshade.Tom Oates, CC BY-SA
In the first instance poisoning results in symptoms including dilated pupils, loss of balance and a rash but it can eventually lead to hallucinations and convulsions. Atrophine, a drug extracted from nightshade, is used in eye examinations to dilate the pupil. It’s even used as a nerve gas antidote.
Hemlock isn’t native to the UK but can be found in most areas. It grows in ditches and riverbanks and in disturbed area such as waste ground and rubbish tips.
Hemlock.Mick Talbot, CC BY
Hemlock is a tall green plant with purple spots on its stem and leaves similar to the carrot plant, it has white flowers. If it is eaten hemlock causes sickness and in severe cases it can kill by paralysing the lungs.
Wolfsbane, Gerard’s Herbal: The General History of Plants, Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections and Archives, HATCH 39&40
Varieties: Wolfsbane (Thora Valdensium/Valdensis), Winter Wolfsbane (Aconitum Hibernum), Anthora
There are other varieties of Wolfsbane, the primary difference being the color of flower. Some common colors are yellow, blue, and purple, and the flowers are often helmet-shaped. Occasionally this leads the observer to confuse Wolfsbane with Monkshood. Different species of Wolfsbane grow nearly year-round. Though many consider Wolfsbane to be beautiful, it is an incredibly deadly plant.
Wolfsbane grows abundantly in the Alps, and throughout Italy. Winter Wolfsbane in particular grows in Germany, and has fairer flowers when in deep snow and extreme cold. No species of Wolfsbane are native to England, but the plants are found in individual gardens. Wolfsbane is also known by the names Aconite and Thora, though there are also varieties of Monkshood that are identified as Thora, which may cause some confusion. Thora comes from the greek name which signifies corruption, poison, or death.
The name Wolfsbane comes from hunters who would use the plant’s poisonous qualities to take down dangerous beasts, particularly wolf packs. The hunters would leave out raw meat laced with the poison. Once the wolves found it, they would eat it and die. The most prominent symptom of Wolfsbane is extreme swelling, though other afflictions include stiffness, lethargy, and eyes hanging out.
Wolfsbane is pretty much incurable if it enters the bloodstream, and victims typically die within half an hour of ingestion. If you are willing to cut out a lot of flesh, the poison can be removed. Additionally, there is an antivenom that can be made using Anthora, but this remedy must be administered immediately.
While Anthora can be used as a remedy, if the plant grows too close to other strains of Wolfsbane, it will assume Wolfsbane’s poisonous qualities. The antivenom created from Anthora is typically administered in wine form, and is also good for most poisons or removing tapeworms.
Gerard tells us that Wolfsbane is to be utterly refused in medicine. He cites an instance where some contemporaries of his were attempting an experiment, in which they served Wolfsbane in a salad. Unfortunately for all in attendance at the event, this dish was incredibly lethal, leaving all who ate it dead.
Gerard also comments that cows will naturally eat around Wolfsbane when grazing, but the flies that follow them will eat the flowers. A remedy for Wolfsbane can be made using these flies. One recipe calls for twenty flies with a dram of Aristolochia rotunda and a dram of Armoniack. Another uses two ounces of Terralemnia, two ounces of Bay berries, two ounces of Mithridate, and twenty-four flies, mixed with honey and olive oil.
How to grow wolfsbane
The seeds of this perennial are a challenge to germinate, which is why you will never find this plant at garden centers or most nurseries. Use the baggie method: Wet and wring out a paper towel (I like to use a weak solution of water and liquid kelp to help germinaton). Sprinkle the seeds on half or a quarter of the paper towel. Fold up the towel and gently press the layers together. Put it into a baggie. The cheap, thin baggies work best. You want a little oxygen to get through. Don’t seal it. Just fold it closed. Don’t forget to label with the name of the seed and the date you started them. Keep the baggie at room temperature and no direct light for 4 weeks. Make sure the paper towel stays moist but not wet and watch it doesn’t start to mold in there. Then close the bag and put in the freezer (preferably a deep freeze) for six weeks. Take out and sow in sterile planting soil (I use Jiffy-7 pellets) and move to temps in the 40-50F/4-10C outside (not in sun) for germination. Consider that this plant naturally grows in high elevations and try to imitate those conditions – cold, snow, snowmelt. One method I have heard of using for seeds that are triggered by snowmelt is to soak the seeds for two weeks in cold water that is changed daily for fresh cold water. This imitates fresh snowmelt. You can also try sowing outside in fall in a pot on the north side of your house and letting overwinter outdoors if you get decent snowcover during winter or you can plant and mulch heavily. Or sow on Winter Solstice (see special directions on the Solstice Sowing page). This is a forest understory plant, so grow in shade in rich soil. It cannot handle warm climates. It’s also a spring ephemeral, which means that it will flower and then die back, only to reappear the following spring. The flowers stalks are 3ft/.8m tall; they come up from a rosette that grows quite large when the plant is happy. Be very careful when handling the seeds if they are wet; the poisonous alkaloid can be absorbed through your skin, and the seeds are high in it because it is a protective to the plant, so if the seeds are wet, plant with latex gloves on or at least immediately wash with soap and water afterwards. Don’t ever touch the sap of this plant. Generally, wear gloves when handling it. General growing info. Top
Aconitum Monkshood: What Is The Best Way To Grow Monkshood In The Garden
The monkshood plant is an herbaceous wildflower that can be found growing in mountain meadows throughout the northern hemisphere. The plant gets its name from the shape of the posterior sepal of the flowers, which resembles the cowls worn by monks. Also known as wolfsbane and Aconitum, monkshood has become popular as a garden addition because of its purple/blue flowers and attractive foliage.
Aconitum Monkshood Info
Growing 2 to 4 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide, perennial monkshood is best grown as a background plant. The leaves of the monkshood plant are palmate, meaning hand shaped, with lobed “fingers” that often have toothed edges and vary in color from light to dark green. In late summer or early fall, it sends up showy spires of purple/blue flowers. Species of Aconitum monkshood with white or yellow flowers are available, though not as common.
Monkshead is not invasive and is both deer and rabbit resistant. However, monkshood, or wolfsbane, is moderately difficult to grow and once planted, doesn’t like to be moved so the best way to grow monkshood is to choose your spot carefully. It sometimes takes a while for it to become established.
What Is the Best Way to Grow Monkshood
The best way to grow monkshood is to plant it in soil similar to what it grows in when wild, that is, average and moist, but well drained. If the soil is too rich, the plants will become leggy and if it holds too much water, the fragile roots will drown.
Perennial monkshood prefers sun, but can tolerate some shade and grows well in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 to 7, where the summer is not too hot. The hotter the summer, the more shade it needs, but beware; the more shady the area, the more likely your monkshood plant will need staking. Try a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade for best results.
If you must move your plants or propagate new ones, perennial monkshood can be divided, but the results are not always successful. If you must transplant, do it in early spring or late fall. Carefully tease the fragile roots apart and replant the crowns just below the soil surface.
The best way to grow monkshood yourself is by seed. The seed should be just barely ripe to avoid a long dormancy and it’s best to sow too many rather than too few because the germination rate is low unless conditions are perfect.
Aconitum plants are readily available through catalogs and may be listed as either monkshood or wolfsbane and as its popularity increases, you’ll see more of them at your local garden centers. Please, for the health of our environment and the beauty of nature, do not attempt to dig up a monkshood plant you have found growing wild.
A Warning About Aconitum Monkshood
All members of the genus Aconitum, monkshood included, are poisonous. In fact, wolfsbane, that other common name, came about from using the ground root of perennial monkshood in meaty bait to kill the once hated animals. It should never be grown within reach of children or pets and all parts of the plant are toxic, including the sap, so appreciate its beauty in the garden and not as a cut flower.
To prevent absorption through the skin, wear gloves when you are gardening around monkshood. In the case of the monkshood plant, beauty comes with a price. Please be careful.
Top 10 Most Poisonous Plants
Aconite (Aconitum napellus) is commonly referred to as monkshood because the top of the flower resembles the monastic head covering. But there’s nothing holy about this plant. A perennial, it stands 2 to 6 feet (0.6 to 1.8 meters) tall and produces blue, white or flesh-colored bunches of flowers at the tops of its stalks. Every part of the aconite plant is laced with the toxin aconitine, making it dangerous to consume or even touch.
Poisonings from aconite are rare but typically occur when gardeners or backpackers mistake its white carrot-like root for horseradish or some other edible herb. Consuming the plant causes burning in the mouth followed by increased salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, a tingling sensation in the skin, blood pressure and heart irregularities, coma and sometimes death. Just touching aconite can cause tingling, numbness, and in severe cases, heart problems.
People have used aconite in the past to intentionally harm people or animals. Nazi scientists used the plant’s toxin to poison bullets, while shepherds in ancient Greece laced bait and arrows with aconite to kill wolves that preyed on their stock. From this latter use came another common name, “wolfsbane.” Fans of the Harry Potter series will recognize this as the plant Professor Snape brews to help Remus Lupin turn into a werewolf.