Eranthis hyemalis, the Winter Aconite, are often the first flowers of the New Year to appear, they beam a golden glow into the garden at a time when the sun rarely breaks through the clouds.
These native European woodland plants are among the earliest to flower in February to March. These rugged plants often send their shoots up through snow, producing a bright display when planted in large numbers under shrubs and deciduous trees.
Unusually, Eranthis is also happy in the light grass that is typical under trees and will even thrive under horse chestnuts and sycamores, whose shade is among the most hostile to other plant life. It can usually be relied upon to spread itself around by seed, a process that can be speeded up with a little help. With time it will spreads to become a carpet of pure golden yellow.
Eranthis hyemalis flowers have of 5 to 8 bright yellow petals that form a cup-shape and are surrounded by dark green leaf-like ruffs of lobed bracts that look like a collar around the blossom. The flowers are sensitive to warmth, they will remain tightly shut on cold days and only open if the temperature reaches around 10°C (50°F). It produces star shaped seed pods and dies down completely after spring.
Growing to just 13cm (5in) tall, it spreads up to 10cm (4in) it begs to be grown en masse, preferably somewhere that gets the morning sun. They are best planted in large drifts where they can really make an impact, a carpet of them in a lawn is a fantastic and spirit-lifting sight.
Eranthis hyemalis has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Sowing: Sow in late summer/autumn and late winter/late spring.
Keep seeds chilled until you are ready to sow. Do not sow with high temperatures.
Spring sowings will give flowers during early summer, whilst summer and autumn sowings will bloom the following winter or spring.
Sowing in Autumn:
Make a mixture of compost and approx 10% sand, to give a little drainage. Sieve the compost into pots or cell packs and press it down lightly. Add a little more compost if necessary. Make a small indentation with your finger and pop the seeds into it. Cover lightly with more sieved soil.
Place the containers in a cold greenhouse, outside in a cold frame or plunge them up to the rims in a shady part of the garden border and cover with glass or clear plastic.
Some of the seeds may germinate during the spring and summer and these should be transplanted when large enough to handle. The remainder of the seeds may lay dormant until next spring.
Sowing in Spring:
Seeds can be left to go through the seasons naturally as above, or, if planting at any other time of year, germination can be hastened by “Stratifying” (imitating the seasons)
Sow seeds as above and leave for 2 to 4 weeks. Transplant any seedlings that may have germinated. Then chill the remaining seeds: put the tray into the refrigerator at -4°C to +4°C (24-39°F), or somewhere with a similar temperature for 6 to 8 weeks. Then remove to around 10°C (50°F)
The normal temperature of a fridge is 4°C (very useful!). Don’t put the seeds into the freezer, it will kill them.
Transplant to pots to grow on for their first winter. Plant seedlings in an open sunny position on a warm, sunny bank, or in a lawn, on a sunny corner of a woodland border or under a deciduous trees and shrubs. Lay out the plants randomly to get a natural look, around 15cm (6in) apart and plant to a depth of 5cm (2in).
Eranthis hyemalis are quite easy to grow in most garden situations, but generally prefer a moist soil. Certainly one that does not dry right out in the summer months, so attention will need to be given to watering and or mulching for the summer months. It is hardy and frost tolerant and will survive fresh snow cover unharmed. They do well in the garden in limey and peaty soils, as long as they have light shade, moisture and good drainage.
If they are to flower at their best in subsequent years, it is best to leave the ruff of strappy leaves untouched until April or May, when it dies down. Keep a close eye on the little green seed pods among the dying foliage. Once the seed turns black get the strimmer out - it will scatter the seed far and wide. Or collect it by hand to grow in containers for use elsewhere in the garden.
Leave undisturbed as much as possible until the clumps are really congested. If this happens lift the clump in April or May and tease it apart just as they are dying down and replant in threes.
Woodlands and naturalised settings., Underplanting of shrubs and deciduous trees.
Eranthis hyemalis, the common winter aconite, is native to Western and Southern Europe, from Italy to Bulgaria, and of Turkey. It has naturalised across much of western Europe, including Britain and Ireland.
E. hyemalis was introduced as a garden plant by 1596, and has become thoroughly established in some areas; it was first recorded in the wild in 1838. The eastern distribution was already apparent in the 1962 Atlas. The great increase since then is probably due to a genuine increase in frequency and the improved recording.
The genus name Eranthis derives from the Greek er meaning spring and anthis meaning flower.
The species name hyemalis derives from the Latin hyems meaning of or belonging to winter
It has the common name of Winter Aconite, Winter Woolfes-bane. And the synonym Aconitum hyemale.
This plant is an excellent example of the confusion which common names can cause, this, relatively, innocent first flower of spring is, sometimes, accused of being as poisonous as plants in the Aconitum genus.
The leaves of Eranthis hyemalis are similar to those of the Aconitum genus and, ignoring the difference in height and flowers, this was enough for it to be classed as an aconite. This may be an extension of the Doctrine of Signatures - if a plant looked like the condition it cured, then plants looking alike would cure the same condition and must, by that logic, be related to each other.
Some sources, especially online and including some prominent reference sites, describe Eranthis as poisonous. They recite the story of Cerebus in relation to this plant and claim it was used to poison arrows. However, the CD-ROM produced by Kew Gardens and the Medical Toxicology Unit at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital states that although no conclusive analysis of the plant is available and there are no reported cases of any creature, human or otherwise, being poisoned by Eranthis hyemalis.
Eranthis are a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, so, as with many plants, ingestion of very large quantities might produce a stomach upset but the plant does not appear on the HTA list of potentially hazardous plants.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 250mg Average Seed Count 50 Seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Eranthis Species hyemalis Common Name Winter Aconite Hardiness Bulbous Perennial Flowers Small, yellow cup-shaped flowers Natural Flower Time February to March Foliage Finger-shaped lobed, dark green leaves Height 10cm (4in) Position Light Shade. Soil Prefers fertile, moist, well drained soil Germination 21 to 30 days