Aconite

Today when I went out to rake my patio, I was shocked and very pleased to see that for the first time a flower that I had planted a few years ago was in bloom. I was shocked  because it is almost ½ way through October and we have had what seemed like two small frosts. I am pleased because the flower is really quite pretty.  

But let me start at the beginning of the tale about this plant. It was in 2001 when I was taking my horticultural classes and bemoaning the fact that whatever flowering plant I planted, the deer ate. And if it weren’t the deer eating the plants it must be the woodchucks, the rabbits, the voles or whatever inhabited my enchanted forest that seemed to eat only the plants I planted. I could dig up a wild daylily and replant it on my property. Even a wild plant that I just replanted  was eaten by the deer or some animal. One of my classmates, perhaps because she wanted me to stop complaining, suggested that I plant an aconite plant, also called monkshood or wolfsbane. Oh no, I replied, I have two young grandchildren who might eat the plant and it is HIGHLY poisonous. Every part of the plant is TOXIC I had heard. In fact when Googling up information about this plant one seems to find more articles on the toxicity of aconite or homeopathic uses or witches potions than about the horticultural value of the plant.

Many of the common names of this plant alluded to the toxicity that has been known about this plant throughout history.   It was called wolf’s bane or Bane of Wolves because wolves as well as other animals were killed by being baited with meat laced with a watery mixture of the plant’s root, or arrows were dipped into an extract made of aconite root and used to hunt wolves as well as other animals. But its pretty flower resembled a knight’s helmet or monk’s cowl so it has many nicer names, including monkshood, that refer to the look of the flower.

I wanted a pretty flower that no animal would touch. So I decided to listen to this new friend and bought a small aconite plant and planted it on a hill that I am trying to make into a rock garden where it is tricky for children to get to. It has a western exposure, has loamy, woodland soil under trees that is not far from a stream that courses through my property. The only plant that I have planted that has successfully grown on this hill, besides pachysandra, is Jacob’s ladder.

When I planted this aconite a few years ago, it seemed to disappear after I planted it like so many plants on my property. I knew that deer and rabbits don’t eat it because of the toxicity. So I guessed that the woodchucks who burrow into the hill had not found it poisonous and had eaten the plant. What a surprise when the plant returned the next year. And for the next 3 years, the plant was there but it never had any flowers. It asked to be planted in partial shade on slightly acidic soil. Perhaps, I thought, I had planted it in a site that was too shady.

Thus I was delighted today to look out and finally see my aconite with flowers and laden with buds. It was flopping all over the place with its 3 foot stems. I hadn’t realized when I tied it up that some people are even bothered by its toxicity when touching the plant. So far I haven’t felt uncomfortable from touching the plant. But I keep running to my window for a vision of its purple beauty.

 

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