Winter aconites

by James Alexander-Sinclair

[The winter aconite] is shorter than its chum the snowdrop but has wider, more interesting leaves that are shaped a bit like baseball mitts.

WYellow flowers of winter aconite, in deciduous woodlandAt this time of year garden magazines and blogs are chock full of articles about snowdrops. Even Adam Pasco has written one and it takes a lot for our sainted editor to stir himself from his Caribbean hideaway at this time of year. However, there are no articles about that other winter stalwart, the aconite, and I intend to rectify that right now.

Eranthis hyemalis is the egg yolk-yellow flower we see clustered around trees in February. It is shorter than its chum the snowdrop but has wider, more interesting leaves that are shaped a bit like baseball mitts. They are best planted in a warm and sunny site as the flowers only open properly on fine days; in the past week or so when temperatures have reached 10°C or so they have been flaunting themselves in their full glory.

All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous and have been used in a number of known (and probably unknown) assassination attempts over the centuries. Also, it is said that, as one of his Twelve Labours, Heracles had to capture Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades. When he succeeded and dragged the beast into the light, the dog (unsurprisingly) was unhappy and slathered saliva all over the ground. This saliva was so toxic that it poisoned the soil, from whence sprang aconites.

Why, you might ask, does the aconite flower at this time of year? It is taking advantage of light levels in deciduous woodland, which are highest in late winter, before the trees come back into leaf. As the year draws on the plant ‘aestivates’: it disappears back into the ground for the summer as the leaves appear on the trees and the shade becomes too dense.

In short, the aconite is a fine and easily grown plant to cheer the winter. Plant tubers in autumn or buy plants 'in the green' in early March.

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Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2011 at 16:39

Then the winter acconite behaves a little bit like the celendine and wood anemone?

Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2011 at 16:41

Is it likely I could get acconites to grow where celendine and anemone grow; where, how does one get hold of the necessary propagation material?

Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2011 at 19:03

I have some of these in my garden, but in the still chilly and not very sunny Central Belt of Scotland, they're not yet in flower. Looking forward to when they do.

Gardeners' World Web User 14/02/2011 at 19:16

My aconites haven't shown up yet. I bought them in the green some years ago and they usually give a good show before the celandines. Their are two species, one a creamier yellow than the other, but both easy to obtain, Tinkerbell, I recommend Eurobulbs who do mail order.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/02/2011 at 08:00

Hi, Is this flower available in a Florist Supplies shop?

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