February's plant of the month

Enjoy a ray of late winter sunshine with Eranthis hyemalis, the winter aconite

Eranthis hyemalis - winter aconiteThis little plant can be found beneath deciduous trees where there is plenty of leafmould in many locations throughout the garden; in particular in the Winter Garden, the Rock Gully and in Lady Anne’s Arboretum. Each bright yellow cup-shaped flower sits above a ruff of dissected bright green leaves in late winter and early spring.

In the Winter Garden we have it growing alongside the lungwort Pulmonaria angustifolia 'Azurea' and in association with the colourful stems of dogwoods (Cornus) and willows (Salix) and the white trunks of birches (Betula). In the Arboretum it forms carpets of yellow beneath both deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. The Rock Gully is a brighter place on dull winter days, thanks to the bright yellow blooms of the winter aconite.

Although it is not a native, Eranthis hyemalis AGM has naturalised and it is found growing in woods and shaded spots beneath deciduous trees throughout the British Isles. The common name comes from the early flowering time and the resemblance of the leaves to those of the genus Aconitum (monkshoods).

Winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) growing in front of willows at RHS Garden RosemoorThey are among the first flowers to appear in spring, as early as January here in Devon, but later in colder parts of the British Isles. The flowers are frost tolerant and will survive a covering of snow unharmed. The leaves expand fully when the flowers have nearly finished and then die down in late spring when the tubers become dormant.

Best grown en masse, they self-seed quite readily. Winter aconites bloom at the same time as snowdrops, making a lovely winter plant association. In the Winter Garden we have also planted them among the pink and blue flowers of Pulmonaria angustifolia 'Azurea', making a striking colour combination.

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