ACONITE (ak’-oh-nyt) – from the genus Aconitum.
A group of herbaceous perennials of the Buttercup Family that derive their common name, Monkshood, from the characteristic hooded or helmet-shaped sepals of the large showy flowers, usually blue.
Roots (and sometimes flowers) contain violent poisons and therefore should not be placed in the mouth. The aconite plant be grown near the vegetable garden. The best-known (and most poisonous) species is the European Aconitum napellus, which yields the drug aconite.
Seed (which germinates slowly) may be sown outdoors in rich soil and partial shade in May or June or it may be started indoors in March or April, though the plants do better if not moved.
When well established should be thinned to stand 18 in. apart. Bought plants should go into the garden in May or September and if transplanting is done it should be done in September or October, enriching the soil with bonemeal.
Flowers, blue or white, borne in July, August and September of the second year on plants that attain heights of 3 to 6 ft., are excellent for cutting.
The plants do best under trees or in other semi-shaded locations, though they sometimes do well in rear borders, forming bushy clumps. Feed with bonemeal dug carefully in around the plants once every six weeks as well as when setting out. Some tall, slender varieties require staking.
Sudden wilting of plants may be due to crown rot or to the Verticillium wilt (recognized by brown or black streaks seen in the tissues when a stem is cut slantwise).
In either case remove diseased plants with the soil around their roots and destroy them. Dust with sulphur to control powdery mildew beginning when the disease first appears.
A drying of the lower leaves seen in many plants is apparently a physiological symptom due to hot dry summers and too-exposed locations. The cyclamen mite blackens and distorts the buds.
Propagation is by seeds, as noted, or by divisions of the thickened, tuberous roots. Among the more important species are:
Aconitum anthora (Aconite pyrcnaicum) (Pyrenees Monkshood). It has pale yellow flowers, with rounded helmets produced into short beaks. Var. aureum has deeper yellow flowers.
Aconitum fischeri – To 6 ft.; flowers blue or white, with helmets as wide as they are long produced into spur-like visors. This group is extremely variable and includes many named garden sorts.
Aconitum napellus – To 4 ft.; blue flowers with wide helmets and beak-like visors. Var. album has white flowers and var. bicolor blue and white blossoms.
Aconitum uncinatum – To 5 ft.; native from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin and Louisiana. Partially climbing; flowers blue with decurved beaks. A herbaceous perennial with weak, partly-climbing stems, native to temperate areas.
Its effect is delicate and smooth; the hoodlike flowers are not showy, but clear blue. This is a neat plant for the wild-flower garden, or for spilling over partly-shaded fences and walls. The mature height is not more than five feet.
This aconite likes rich, moist soil and partial shade. It does not transplant easily; so it is best started from seed sown where it is to grow. It will flower during the second or third year.
The plant called Winter-aconite is really Eranthis.
Common Names: Wild Monkshood