Aconitums come in many guises and they can flower between July and late September. The hooded, helmet-shaped flowers, which consist of sepals rather than petals, give aconitums the common name of monkshood.
Aconitum napellus subsp. vulgare Albidum is a superb white form of the most popular Monkshood. Hardy to minus 40°C (-40°F), long lived and maintenance free, they are choice mid to late season vertical accent plants. The flower spikes grow to around 120cm (48in) tall. The stiff stems are self-supporting with handsome leathery green foliage.
Aconitum are suitable for borders and woodland gardens and are extremely attractive to pollinating insects, especially bees. They must have moisture, but given this are easy to grow in almost any soil, either in sun or light shade. They are very hardy and will even grow in rough grass and so are a great addition to a collection of plants for a flowery meadow.
Gardeners who find delphiniums difficult should try Aconitum as an alternative, unlike delphiniums, monkshoods usually need no staking and they are less appealing to slugs and snails.
Sowing: Sow indoors in spring or directly outdoors in autumn
Aconitum grows reliably from seeds when they are exposed to cold temperatures for several weeks to break their dormancy. This can be accomplished by sowing the seeds directly outdoors in late autumn or early winter for germination the following spring. At other times of the year the seeds can be cold-stratified before sowing indoors and the seedlings transplanted into the garden when temperatures are warm.
Place the seeds in a plastic bag filled with moistened paper towel ten weeks before the last spring frost. Chill them in a refrigerator for three weeks before sowing. Fill 7cm (3in) pots with perlite-enhanced potting soil. Stand the pots in water until the compost is fully moist and then drain. Sow the seeds 5mm (¼in) deep and place the pots on a lightly shaded windowsill where temperatures stay between 13 to 16°C (55 to 60°F). Shield the pots from direct afternoon sun to keep the soil from drying out too quickly.
Maintain constant moisture in the top 1cm (½in) of soil using a spray bottle. Water whenever the soil feels barely moist on the surface to prevent it from completely drying out. Watch for germination in approximately one month. Decrease watering slightly after the seeds germinate. Allow the top 5mm (¼in) of soil to dry out before adding more water.
Transplant the monkshood seedlings into a partly shaded bed with moist, fast-draining soil one week after the last frost. Space the plants 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) apart. Mulch heavily between the plants.
Prepare a shady bed with fast-draining soil two weeks after the first light frost in autumn to ensure that the soil and air temperatures are cool. Weed the site thoroughly and add a 7cm (3in) thick layer of compost to the top 15cm (6in) of soil. Sow the seeds 15cm (6in) apart and cover lightly with 5mm (¼in) of loose soil over the seeds. Spray the bed lightly with water to settle the soil onto the seeds.
After germination, which takes about one month, thin the seedlings to one every 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in)
Spread a 3cm (1in) thick layer of mulch around each seedling to keep their roots cool and moist. Water to a 5cm (2in) depth if no rain falls for longer than one week.
All monkshoods prefer a mixture of sun and shade, with moist rich soil. Prepare an extra deep planting hole at least 45cm (18in) deep, adding well-rotted organic matter to prevent the soil from drying out in summer. Plant 45cm (18in) apart, in groups of three, five or seven plants for a touch of drama in the garden.
When the plant goes to seed, the seed pods look like upside-down three-legged bloomers. If these are removed while still green, it is more likely the monkshood will rebloom in late August or September.
They should be divided periodically in spring to keep them uncongested and vigorous. The plants come into growth very early in the year so division is best done in the autumn or very early in spring. The plants are slow to settle when newly planted so water well until they are established.
Cottage / Informal gardens, Wildlife, Shade and Woodland Gardens.
Aconitums are wonderful garden flowers and make excellent cut flowers but the plants, and especially the roots are poisonous, Contact with the foliage may cause irritation, so plants must be handled with great care and much washing of hands. The wearing of gloves is recommended.
The root contains 90% more poison than the leaves so the plants should not be grown where the leaves or roots might be accidentally mixed in with food crops. Its distinctive taste makes it unpleasant to eat so accidental poisoning is extremely rare but not unknown. The taste is described as initially very bitter followed by a burning sensation and a numbing of the mouth.
Keep young children away from the plants. There are many plants in our gardens that are poisonous, teach your children about this and other plants. Education is always more powerful than ignorance.
Aconitum napellus, is a species of Aconitum in the family Ranunculaceae. Known as the European Monkshood it is native to western and central Europe, east to N. W. Asia and the Himalayas. In Britain it is found in southern Wales and south-western England. It inhabits damp shady places and moist rich meadows and is usually found in calcareous soils.
Besides the common gardened monkshoods from the mountains of Europes, there are species with more or less identical appearance native of North America (A. delphinifolium and A. columbianum) and all across Asia and Asia minor (A. kusnezoffi & A. carmichaeli), so that the genus circles the northern hemisphere.
Aconitum is the ancient Greek name of this plant, loosely translated as 'unconquerable poison'.
The species name napellus derives from the Latin napus meaning ‘with a little turnip-like root’ referring to the shape of the root.
Albidum simply means white, referring to the colour of the flowers.
The marvelously unique shape of the blossoms gave rise to the most common name, Monkshood. It is not merely named for the flowers' resemblance to monks' cowls, but for the greater resemblance to the war helmets of knights who took monks' vows before riding fully armoured to the Crusades, hence its alternate names Soldier's Cap or Helmet Flower.
Other names alluding to its helmet-like shape have included Friar's Cap, Friar's Cowl, Helmet Flower, Soldier's Helmet, Cuckoo's Cap, Turk's Cap, or among ancient Germanic peoples, Thor's Helm, in Scandinavia Stormhatt or Oktober Stormhatt, & in Scotland, Auld Wife's Huid (Old Wife's Hood). Even in Japan, which has its native species of nearly identical appearance, it is called Hana-tori Kabuto, meaning flower-bird samurai helmet.
Aconitum was often called Wolfsbane because it was used in the Dark Ages to poison meat left out to kill wolves. Claudius I, Emperor of Rome, was slain by his own physician who slipped him monkshood. It was so often used for political assassinations that Trajon banned its cultivation altogether. Anyone caught gardening these flowers risked a penalty of death.
It has a long history of association with witchcraft. Having proved too dangerously toxic for the legitimate pharmacy, it fell to the province of sorcerers and witches. It was a believed by many Christians to be a common ingredient in witches' potions. Occasionally named ‘Love Poison’ because it was used in love potions, forever the most popular thing that any crone with a lifetime of herb-lore in her was asked to concoct. If the proportions were wrong, the object of the potion's effect merely died.
Aconitum is also blessed with many wonderful folk-names. Some old English names include Captain-Over-the-Garden, Chariot and Horses, Granny's Nightcap, Auld Wife's Huid, and Lucky's Mutch.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 25 Seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Aconitum Species napellus Cultivar Newry Blue Common Name Monkshood Other Common Names Wolfsbane Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to minus 40°C (-40°F) Flowers White Natural Flower Time June and July Foliage Glossy, finely cut rich green leaves Height 120cm (48in) Spread 30cm. (12in) Position Sun or light shade.