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Dare I say it, but it felt a little bit like…spring…out there today in New York (at least the parts that weren’t covered in huge sheets of discolored slush). Sadly the ice sheets still cover all of my shade garden and flower posts from the back yard will have to wait until spring actually gets here, but looking at the internet I see that some flowers are popping up in the corners of other people’s gardens. The one above is Eranthis hyemalis (winter-aconite), a member of the buttercup family originally native to France, Italy and the Balkans but now widely naturalized across Europe and the East Coast.

There isn’t really a larger point or story to this post. I am just pleased that the flowers are coming back (even if we are talking about the earliest, earliest, earliest flowers of the season). Like all of the ranunculales, the winter aconite is quite poisonous from the tip of its anther to the bottom its root (so don’t go around the snow banks shoveling them into your mouth, I guess). We will get to those promised ideas for improving global society in soon-to-follow posts (😊) and I suspect we will start seeing some more spring flowers too!

The Yellow Aconite or Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

The Yellow Aconite or Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

This lovely little yellow flower is Eranthis hyemalis, more commonly known as the winter aconite.  Native to the woodlands of continental Europe, the winter aconite is a member of the sprawling & poisonous buttercup family (which includes beauties and horrors like the monkshood, the ranunculus, and the delphiniums).  Eranthis hyemalis which is now blooming here in New York (in gardens which are eccentric enough to have it) is a quintessential spring ephemeral—it blossoms and grows in earliest spring before any trees are in leaf—or even in bloom.  The plant flowers and puts out leaves and gathers sunlight and stores energy all before the other plants even start.  Then, as the woodland canopy expands above it and as its growing spot is covered with shade, the aconite dies back to its hardy underground tuber which remains dormant until next spring.  Although it lives in verdant forests it could almost be an ascetic desert flower based on its hardiness and hermit-like lifestyle.  It would be a big mistake to mistake the flower for a weakling or a vegetable–like the other buttercups, all parts of it are ferociously poisonous.  Do not eat it (or smoke it…or even look at it funny)!

Illustration Eranthis hyemalis

Illustration Eranthis hyemalis

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