How to Grow Aconitum napellus Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Common Aconite, Wolfsbane, and Monk's Hood

Aconitum napellus is known by many common names, perhaps the most common ones being Monk's hood (Monkshood), others include Common Aconite, Wolfsbane (Also see Arnica montana), Adam & Eve, Fuzi, and Helen Flower.

It is a member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family and is an herbaceous biennial or perennial.

Aconitum napellus
Aconitum napellus photograph by Gail Hampshire

In addition to being a commonly grown ornamental garden flower, it is also used in Chinese traditional medicines and homeopathy. Beaware that all parts of the plant are highly toxic.

Unfortunately, misuse of this plant can lead to cardiac problems as it contains poisonous compounds.

The plant was actually used to poison arrows for the hunting of wolves in ancient times, and during the Roman period it was an oft used poison, and people found growing of Aconitum napellus could be sentenced to death.

Monkshood growing in the wild

Monkshood growing in the wild, photograph by gailhampshire; CC.

In the garden Aconitum napellus is often grown in a hybrid form, and is useful both as part of a cottage garden, and in flower beds and borders.

Aconitum napellus Description Aconitum napellus Description

Aconitum napellus reaches up to 150 cm (60 inches) in height, and has a spread of up to 50 cm (20 inches). The leaves are dark green, palmate (5–7 lobes), and about 6 to 10 cm (2.5–4 inches) in size; they occur in spring and summer.

Aconitum napellus plant
Aconitum napellus plant picture by Mr. Tonreg

Blooms occur in the summer and are dark blue to purple. Flowers occur on 20 cm (8 inch) racemes, are oblong, with helmet shaped sepals (which give the plant the name of monkshood), and about 1 to 2 cm (0.4–0.8 inches).

In addition to the blue-purple flowers of the native Aconitum napellus, cultivars have been developed that have pink or white colored flowers.

Aconitum napellus photograph by Joan Simon.

Growing Aconitum napellus

Aconitum napellus Growing Guide

Aconitum napellus seeds are highly toxic, if growing from seed wear gloves. Sow on the surface in flats against a shaded wall. It can take from one week to nine months for germination to occur.

Zones 3–8. Performs best when night-time temperatures remain below 21°C (70°F).

Ideally grow in a sheltered area of partial shade, but can survive in sunny areas when the soil has been enhanced with organic matter.

Space at 20 to 50 cm (8–20 inches) apart.

Will grow in most soils but for best results the soil should be well-drained, rich, cool, and moist.

Water regularly during dry periods to maintain a moist soil, but do not swamp the plant.

Aconitum napellus plants are highly toxic, be sure to use gloves when handling and avoid any contact with the skin. Do not work with the plant if you have open wounds.

The roots and seeds are especially toxic.

They are naturally resistant to rabbits and deer. As with other toxic plants do not grow them in the garden if you have children or pets, and due to their tuberous roots do not grow them anywhere near a vegetable garden.

Close up of an Aconitum napellus leaf

Aconitum napellus leaf close-up, photograph by Joan Simon; CC.

Further Details

  • Scientific Name: Aconitum napellus.
  • Common Name: Monkshood, Common Aconite, Wolfsbane.
  • Growing Zone: USA: 3 to 7: UK RHS H7 - Hardy throughout Europe.
  • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Herbaceous, Deciduous, Perennial or Biennial.

Plant Details

  • Plant Height: 2 to 5 feet (0.6 to 1.5 m).
  • Plant Spread: 12 inches (30 cm).
  • Time of Bloom: Mid to late summer.
  • Flower Details: Showy. Violet blue. Hooded. Spires. Terminal racemes.
  • Leaf Foliage: Dark Green, Divided. Tootled Lobes.
  • Growth Form: Irregular or sprawling, Upright or erect.

Ideal Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions: Partially shady to full sunlight.
  • Rate of Growth: Grows slowly. reaches full height after about 2 or 3 years.
  • Suitable Soil Types: Cool. Loamy, Clay, Neutral, Organically rich.
  • Soil Moisture: Moist/Wet, Well drained

Caring Conditions

  • Care: Provide shelter. Water well to maintain moist soil. Porvide mulch to help keep soil cool. Add organic matter.
  • Level of Maintenance: Medium.
  • Propagation: Division in autumn, or towards the end of winter.
  • How to Prune: Cut down plants to the growind in the autumn.
  • Pests: Usually pest free
  • Diseases: Subject to powdery mildews

Further Information

  • Tolerant of: Rabbit, Deer
  • Best Garden Use: Border, Container, Coutyards, En masse, Woodland garden.
  • Family: Buttercups, Ranunculaceae
  • Similar Plants from the Ranunculaceae Family: Aconitum, Adonis, Clematis, Consolida, Eranthis, Helleborus, Nigella, Ranunculus, and Trollius.
  • Miscellaneous: Non-native to North America (European native), All parts are poisonous. This plant was traditionally used to make poison arrows to hunt wolves (hence the common name of Wolfsbane).
  • Genus Detail: Aconitum.
  • Further Reading and References: Here and Here

Monk's Hood flower

Monkshood flowers, Picture by Rictor Norton & David Allen; CC.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Aconitum napellus. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ growing guides: How to grow Consolida and Nigella plants.