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Alaska Wildflowers | Purple

Monkshood flower in Denali National Park


Aconitum delphiniifolium

Aconitum delphiniifolium, ssp. delphiniifolium DC. (not accepted)
Larkspurleaf monkshood

Genus: Aconitum L. (monkshood)
Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup family)
Order: Ranunculales

Duration: Perennial

Uses: None. Whole plant is highly toxic. May cause paraesthesia from skin contact, although not common.

Plants of the genus Aconitum L. contain aconitine, an alkaloid toxin. Another similar species of Monkshood, Aconitum napellus was also known as “wolfsbane” because it was used as a nerve poison to kill wolves (typically put in raw meat as bait). Many species of Aconitum L. have been used as arrow poisons. Ingestion of aconitine causes nerve paralysis, low blood pressure, ventricular arrhythmia, and heart failure.

Identification – Monkshood

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Monkshood has a very similar look to Larkspur, except with a narrower stem and a “hood” over the top of the purple to dark-blue flower. The plant grows 0.3-1 m (1-3 ft) high from a narrow stem. Taller plants require other companion plants to remain upright.

Leaves are cauline, 7-13 cm (3-5 in) in width, have five deeply divided lobes, each containing three smaller lobes. The flowers are purple or dark blue and asymmetrical and distributed on raceme or panicle inflorescence near the top of the stem. Blossoms are green or green-yellow before developing the purple color. The flower is slightly tubular with five petals, including the hood, about 2-3 cm (1 inch) in length. The root is tuberous, typically with a single daughter tube.

Distribution and Habitat

Aconitum delphiniifolium is native to Alaska, northwestern Canada, and eastern Siberia. Typically flowers June-September. Prefers richer soils, but is often found in rockier subalpine areas in Alaska. Can be found in woods, rocky slopes, alpine tundra, meadows, or along stream beds.

Another subspecies, Aconitum delphiniifolium ssp. chamissonianum lives in coastal areas and the Aleutian chain and is somewhat taller with larger flowers.

References and More Reading

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 7
Wolfsbane: fictitous plant contains very real dangers, Evergreen.edu – Plant Profiles in Chemical Ecology
Aconitum delphinifolium – DC., Plants For A Future pfaf.org
Aconitum delphiniifolium  DC., ITIS Database
Aconitum delphiniifolium DC. larkspurleaf monkshood, USDA Database
Larkspurleaf monkshood, Wildflowers of the National Forests in Alaska, USDA and US Forest Service
Aconitum napellus (Monkshood): A Purple Poison, National Capital Poison Center – poison.org
2. Aconitum delphiniifolium de Candolle, Syst. Nat. 1: 380. 1817., Flora of North America www.eFloras.org

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