Winter Aconite ~ Plant Care Guide
By: Nikki Phipps
Winter aconite (Eranthis) has 8 species, though only two of these, E. hyemalis and E. cilicica, are commonly cultivated. Its Latin meaning is Greek for ‘spring flower.’ Blooming often takes place as early as late January or early February. In fact, cold winters bring the best show of flowers, while milder conditions seem to inhibit blooming.
The flowers of winter aconite are similar to those of buttercups, but it’s the leaves of this plant which give it such interest, enclosing the flower somewhat like a collar. The basal leaves appear after the flowers. The yellow blooms of winter aconite open only while the sun is shining and close once darkness falls. Winter aconite dies down completely after spring.
Winter aconite originates from woodlands and requires humus-rich soil that is well drained to mimic this setting. The winter aconite plant will generally thrive in either full sun or partial shade and needs consistent moisture year-round. Winter aconite has small tubers, about the size of a pea, and should be planted no more than 1-3 inches deep and no later than September. Soaking the winter aconite tubers in lukewarm water 24 hours prior to planting will also help with its overall development.
Since winter aconite is a ground-hugging plant, reaching no more than 8 inches in height, it is an ideal choice for covering sloped landscapes or for use as edging, producing a beautiful carpet of golden yellow. These lively little showstoppers make wonderful companions to snowdrops. Contrasting colors of white and yellow are a common occurrence in nature and regularly appear side by side, making winter aconite quite attractive within snow-covered landscapes or alongside blankets of white flowers.
There are generally no pests or diseases problems associated with winter aconite, and once established, it is an easy-care plant, self-seeding freely. You should, however, be weary of where you place winter aconite as its self-seeding abilities can sometimes cause this plant to become invasive in the yard. You can divide the clumps of winter aconite every three or more years and transplant after flowering. Unfortunately, they resent disturbance and may become weakened if tubers are removed too often.
E. hyemalis is a native of Europe and is the most common of winter aconite species. This particular species blooms earlier than the others and its lovely lemon-yellow flowers reach 6 inches, making it a great edging for borders, rock gardens, and beneath trees and shrubs. A native to Turkey, the yellow blooms of E. cilicica are somewhat larger than most other species with smaller bronze-green leaves. This species also makes an ideal specimen in borders and rock gardens.
There is, however, a darker side to these late winter/early spring-blooming beauties. Winter aconites are one of the most poisonous plants in the garden. If you have small children or pets that are likely to dig in the garden, you may not want to plant winter aconite in your yard. The entire plant, especially the tuber, is quite poisonous and may cause nausea, vomiting, colic attacks, and visual disturbances.