Their particular appearance and poisonousness have given rise to myths and legends, which have always indicated aconite as the flower of vengeance and guilty love. Greek mythology tells that Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Hecate, Queen of Hades, carried aconite seeds in his drool. When Hercules kidnapped the beast, dragging it with frothy rage on the ground, he favoured the spread of the seeds along the way; this is how the aconite seeds arrived in this world.
According to Norwegian tradition, this flower represented, for its particular shape, the helmet of Odin, the most valiant Teutonic warrior. This special headgear gave everyone who wore it the magical power to make themselves invisible to men. The Christian religion considers it the hood of the monks. In France it is popularly known as the chariot of Venus.
The aconites (also called Jupiter’s helmet) are very simple to grow plants that adapt well to both sunny and slightly shady positions. They can be used in flowerbeds or mixed borders to give verticality, perhaps alternating with delphinium or lupines. They are also able to create beautiful chromatic contrasts thanks to the wide range of colours in which they are declined.
All you have to do is be careful if there are children or pets in our garden: it is a particularly toxic herb (one of the most poisonous plants found spontaneously in Europe). In those cases, it is advisable to place the individuals in areas that are difficult to reach and also avoid them being touched, since the alkaloid so dangerous is able to penetrate through the skin.
Family and gender
aconitum, more than 300 species
Type of plant
Perennial herbaceous plant with tuberous roots
Half shade, sunshine
Fresh and rich, even slightly calcareous
Frequent, no stagnation
Regular, from March to October
Blue, purple, lavender, white, pink, yellow, green
Depending on the species, from May to November
Cleaning and removal of exhausted flowers
Attention, very poisonous plant
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Description and classification aconite
The genus Aconitum includes about 300 species coming from the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere, mainly from Asia; however, the cultivated ones are few. Mostly herbaceous with tuberous rhizomes; the leaves are deep green, more or less rounded and divided into three to seven lobes, each of which can be toothed or further divided into narrower lobes which, in some cases, give the whole a feathery and light appearance.
Over time, the basal leaves become rather ugly until they almost disappear. This is why, in order to make the whole decorative, it is always advisable to insert the aconite in the second or third floor so that the foot is hidden by other lower essences in the front part.
Flowers range from blue to purple, but rarer forms are also available in white, pink or even yellow. They develop into spike-shaped apical inflorescences. In some species they are already present in mid-spring (usually May), in others it is necessary to wait at least until the middle of summer, if not autumn.
In reality, the ornamental part of the flower is represented not by the petals, but by the tepals. The upper one is called a helmet and has the characteristic shape of a cap. The real petals of the flower are actually very small in size.
A bit of history
Aconite has been known since ancient times for the toxic activity of its alkaloids. It was used to poison the wells and aquifers of enemies. It was also common to use it to poison the tips of arrows.
According to a Greek legend he was born from the drool of Cerberus, a three-headed dog from the underworld.
In the Middle Ages it began to be considered a magical plant. It was attributed the ability to ward off werewolves, vampires and other malignant beings. It was also used in folk medicine, although not always successfully.
Blue, scented end spikes
Up to 1 m
Dark green leaves, upright, with many secondary spikes
Eleanora whites suffused with blue
From June to August
From 60 to 150 cm
Deeply lobed leaves
Two-tone white with blue borders
Up to 120 cm
Grandiflorum white album
Up to 110 cm
Pink sensation pale pink
Up to 100 cm
Da 60 cm and 2 meters
Foglie verde scuro, fiori grandi, dalla Cina e Vietnam
Arendsii azzurro lavanda
Royal flush blu blu intenso
Foglie rosso acceso in primavera
Baker’s variety azzurro lavanda
Kelmscott lavanda intenso
Spatlese lavanda chiaro
Grigio, viola, verdi, blu, vinaccia
Rampicante with foglie simili a quelle delle viti, grappoli da 2 a 12 fiori.
A. spark blu viola
Fino a 1,5
Spighe corte with tantissimi fiorellini, foglie scure
Viola, blu, giallastri o bianco crema
Da giugno ad agosto
Fino a 2 metre long
Dall’Asia, Europe and Africa
Subsp lycoctonum viola scuro
Subsp. Napolitanum giallo tenue
Fino a 120 cm
Vulparia giallo pallido
Fino a 120 cm
Viola o blu
Da maggio a giugno
Fino a 3 m
Dall’Europa, Asia and Nordamerica
Bergfurst blu scuro
Blue valley blu
Luglio e agosto
Molti piccoli fiorellini
May and June
Up to 90 cm
Carneum pink meat
Aconite is a very rustic herb and is rarely damaged by the rigours of winter. It can also withstand temperatures as low as -20°C. If we plant during the autumn it can be useful to mulch, for the first year, the foot with very mature manure or straw.
They are not particularly demanding, however, in order to grow and flourish better, they need a substrate as similar as possible to that of its habitats of origin. In nature, in fact, we can find these plants in mountain meadows or at the edge of forests.
They need, therefore, a soil rich in organic matter, well aerated and drained, but which has the capacity to keep fresh.
Substrates that are too light, poor or sandy should be avoided because the roots need continuous moisture.
The ideal exposure for the aconites is definitely the half-shade, in an area that tends to be damp.
However, they can also grow well in the full sun, especially if the soil and irrigation are adequate.
In the absence of precipitation, irrigation must always be constant. If we live in the Centre-South and/or if the plant is more exposed to the sun, the interventions should be rather close, even several times a week. Let’s always make sure that the soil never dries completely, but, at the same time, let’s avoid persistent water stagnation.
In order to defer the interventions, it is advisable to prepare a good mulch of the foot during the warm seasons. The ideal materials are leaves, straw or hay. We can also cover the lower part by helping ourselves with other grasses that, moreover, will not highlight the progressive drying of the basal leaves.
Some species and some hybrids are capable of maintaining a beautiful flowering from May until November.
In order to always have an abundant production and brightly coloured corollas, it is good to administer once a week a liquid product for flowering plants, with a good potassium content.
A good alternative is also the slow release granular fertilizers which, generally, must be administered twice a year, at the end of winter and the beginning of summer.
The best time for planting is undoubtedly in autumn: in this way the specimens will have plenty of time to develop a good root system on site and in spring they will grow more vigorously, all to the benefit of a more abundant flowering.
However, especially where the winters are very cold, we can also proceed towards the end of February.
Small holes must be dug, with a diameter and depth about double that of the pot. Let’s put a handful of manure on the bottom, extract the plant, insert it in the hole and cover with the soil compressing with force. Let’s make sure that the collar is at the same level as when it was in the pot.
We water abundantly and continue to keep the soil moist until the end of the summer.
Important note: We always wear gloves when handling aconite, because all its parts (and especially the roots) are extremely poisonous!
New seedlings can be obtained by sowing or by division of the head.
If we buy the seeds we can proceed in the spring, placing them in a cold box and keeping them always moist, at a temperature of about 18°C. The germination is rather slow.
If we have personally harvested the seeds, it is necessary to vernalize them, then keep them in a humid and cold environment for a few months. We can then leave them outside during the winter or put them in small containers with moist sand inside the refrigerator.
The division usually takes place in autumn, when the plant goes into vegetative rest. The specimens are extracted from the ground and the various plants are separated by means of small pitchforks. We can put them back directly in the ground. This operation can be repeated every three or four years.
Aconite: Pests and Diseases
Aconites are very rustic plants and are not very sensitive to diseases and parasites. Nevertheless, if the humidity is too persistent at the level of the roots and leaves, powdery mildew or verticillosis may occur. Both can lead to death.
To prevent these problems from arising, plants should always be placed in an area where the water does not risk becoming stagnant. Watering must be frequent, but excesses must be avoided.
- Aconite is a genus of spermatophyte plants with two cotyledons, belonging to the family of Ranuncola
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