Aconitum napellus [a-kon-EYE-tum, nap-ELL-us] is a part of the Ranunculaceae family, known for its intriguing flowers, and native to the mountainous areas in western and central Europe.
You may hear it called by its common names including:
- Monk’s Hood
All three common names refer to various items.
- Aconite is derived from the genus’s name.
- Monkshood, also stylized as Monk’s Hood, refers to the flower’s resemblance to the cowl of a monk’s hood.
- Lastly, wolfsbane refers to the plant’s ability to drive wolves away because of its toxicity.
Aconitum Napellus Care
Size & Growth
The plant is a slow-grower, taking up to a year for it to start sprouting when started from seeds, taking its sweet time to grow those unique flowers.
Fortunately, despite growing slow, monkshood is long-lived.
If all growing conditions are met, the plant may grow up to 3’ – 5’ feet in height and amass a 2’ feet spread.
Flowering and Fragrance
The flowers of the monkshood are the main reason the plant is sought after among gardeners.
In mid to late summer, it starts to sprout beautiful blue or white (depending on the variety) racemes of flowers.
The flowers are borne on un-branched sturdy stems and have five sepals each.
They are narrow and oblong, approximately 1” inch tall.
The top sepal on the flower curves downwards, giving it a helmet-like shape.
The petals are hidden inside the hood.
Light & Temperature
The plant is hardy to USDA Zones 4 through 8.
Monkshood is known to occasionally survive Zone 2 under the right growing conditions.
However, cooler temperatures are more favorable.
As for light, the plant favors partially shaded locations.
If you’re growing them in full shade, you will need to stake the plants.
Sunny locations may be tolerable, but you will need to keep the soil consistently moist for the plant to thrive.
Watering and Feeding
Being a low-maintenance plant, monkshood doesn’t have very specific watering needs.
Once the plant is established, it tolerates short periods of drought.
However, these plants are most robust when planted in moist soils.
To ensure this, water the plant regularly but avoid overwatering as it may lead to root rot.
Feeding depends on how rich the soil is.
If you use a high-quality soil enriched with organic matter, side dressing with organic fertilizer, and compost every spring is sufficient.
Soil & Transplanting
In its natural habitat, the plant is most abundantly found in calcareous soils. It prefers heavier clay soils with a neutral to slightly acidic pH.
However, it thrives in most soils. The plant also favors moist soils with excellent drainage.
If you’re planting the monkshood in a very sunny location, it’s crucial the soil remains moist, or the plant will wilt.
This plant doesn’t like to be transplanted and doesn’t take well to being moved.
The general recommendation is to sow the seeds directly in the permanent location.
Grooming and Maintenance
Monkshood is a very low-maintenance plant. It doesn’t require extensive grooming or constant fretting over to keep in good shape.
There is no need for pruning and the plants produce flowers late in the season, they don’t repeat bloom.
This means the plant doesn’t need to be deadheaded. Additionally, the plant dies back to the ground after frost.
Learn more about other perennials in our article titled 45 Easy Perennials
How to Propagate Wolfsbane
Monkshood is most commonly propagated with seeds.
However, starting the plant is difficult as it may be finicky about germination.
It could even take up to a year to sprout. This is why you must not expect all the seeds to germinate.
Sow them in the fall or early spring after treating them to a chilling period to break dormancy.
Since the plants are slow to grow, it will be a while before they are long enough to be handled.
But once it is, don’t waste any time in transplanting them in the permanent location in late spring or early summer.
The plant is propagated via division as well. It is done in either fall or spring as the plant comes into growth early in the year.
Monk’s Hood Pest or Diseases
The plant is not known to harbor any serious pest or disease issues.
When it’s grown in excellent growing conditions and maintained well, problems are rare.
Additionally, many animals, including deer, avoid the plant due to its toxicity. However, there might be an occasional problem with:
Four-lined plant bug, leafminers, and mites can attack the leaves of the plant and stress it out.
When it comes to disease, the plant is also susceptible to bacterial leaf spot, verticillium wilt, and rust.
Visit a gardening center in your vicinity to find the least toxic solution, which will be most suitable for your garden.
All parts of the Aconite plant are poisonous.
If bare skin or any mucous membrane comes in contact with the sap, it triggers a number of symptoms.
Side effects of ingesting the plant include skin irritation, cardiac arrest, and respiratory issues.
Ingesting the plant in large quantities can lead to death.
There are many literary references hinting to people using the plant to get rid of enemies.
However, the plant is not unusable.
There are many people who have successfully grown the plant safely. It just requires a little bit of caution when being handled.
Details on the Winter Aconite aka Eranthis.
Aconitum Napellus Uses
The monkshood plant is a marvel of Mother Nature, used in various garden settings.
The spike-like bright blue flowers are something to be admired.
It looks stunning swaying in the wind in a cottage and home gardens.
The beautiful showy flowers are also grown as a crop for fresh cutting material.
The flowers are also dried and used as dried material.
However, the toxicity of the plant might not make it suitable for planting in locations where a child or an animal might consume it accidentally.