En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Wednesday - February 27, 2008

From: Baltimore., MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Information about native aconitum
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

There was a picture of a plant in our local newspaper this past week. In the photo ID they called this plant an aconite, a member of the buttercup family. My questions are: is there such a plant? is it a native or what? what is the botanical name? resources on where to obtain this plant? and the usual other questions. I am from Baltimore, Md., picture was from Boonsboro, Md. Thank you for any help.

ANSWER:

Indeed, there is such a plant, quite a few species of it, in fact. It is sometimes referred to as monkshood, because of the hooded shape of the flowers. It also has the common name of "wolfsbane" because the ancient Germans used it to poison wolves. And therein lies the problem with using any of these species as garden plants. The plant is distributed generally in the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. There are some native to Europe and at least four native to North America, which is what the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center centers on. They are really lovely in appearance, with blue flowers that do, indeed, look like little hoods. Unfortunately, there are deadly alkaloids in all parts of the plant; with the most concentration in the roots. They are particularly dangerous for children because of their small size and curiosity. The aconitums (or aconite) are members of the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family, and it's hard to believe something with such a sweet-sounding background can be so deadly, but it's true. While we're sure there are sources where you can obtain these plants, we recommend that you do not do so. There are too many beautiful blooming plants which will thrive in Baltimore to run the risk of planting a poisonous one like this.

Here are the four aconitums native to North America that are found in our Native Plant Database, with pictures so you can identify them if you see them:

Aconitum columbianum (Columbian monkshood)

Aconitum delphiniifolium (larkspurleaf monkshood)

Aconitum noveboracense (northern blue monkshood)

Aconitum uncinatum (southern blue monkshood)

Now, may we suggest four possible replacements for aconitums. All of these can be found in Maryland, all have blue flowers, all bloom in the summer, and are similar in appearance to the aconitums, but much more benign. We will also insert pictures of these North American natives.

Gentiana andrewsii (closed bottle gentian) blooms August to October

Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia) blooms July to October

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) blooms March to June

Scutellaria ovata (heartleaf skullcap) blooms April to June


Aconitum columbianum

Aconitum delphiniifolium

Aconitum noveboracense

Aconitum uncinatum

Gentiana andrewsii

Lobelia siphilitica

Mertensia virginica

Scutellaria ovata














 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Plant Identification Questions

Locating Rhododendron calendulaceum
April 26, 2008 - Trying to locate Rhododendron calendulaceum
view the full question and answer

Identification of shrub in South Carolina
December 12, 2011 - First, I'm in Iraq but trying to write a book and have a question on a plant that grows in South Carolina. All I can do is describe it. The bush is normally green but turns red, has large leaves, kin...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on forbs
October 16, 2005 - What kind of plant is a forb? I see the term used frequently in reference to grasses (I think), but I can't figure out exactly what a forb is.
view the full question and answer

plant identification, Portulaca pilosa, Kiss-me-quick
October 02, 2007 - There is a small plant with clusters of red-purple flowers and tubular succulent leaves on branching stems I found in the flower boxes at the top of the look-out tower there at the center. I forgot to...
view the full question and answer

Mystery shrub in Michigan
July 18, 2011 - I live in the upper peninsula of Michigan and noticed a shrub in the woods that has large clusters of small red, what I would call berries on it. Can you give me some n...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center