Monks-hood; Aconitum napellus

This plant used to grow in the surroundings of a private hostel in Castle Acre in Norfolk.  After I closed and sold my Field Study Centre some of the schools that had been loyally using it for many years still wanted to bring their students to Norfolk and to have the benefit of my expertise for their field study course!!! That was nice, and  in order to do that they needed accommodation, and thus we sometimes used the hostel called the Old Red Lion in Castle Acre. It was only suitable for smallish groups, for larger groups we used the Youth Hostel at Sherringham on the north Norfolk coast.

The lady who owned the Red Lion was called Alison …….. she was a one off! Vegan, Yoga, very fit and active and quite old.  I advised her that being as visitors to her hostel were often not that clued up about wild flowers and sometimes quite young, then having quite a lot of deadly plants growing around the area might not be a good idea, especially as she also had some raspberries, wild strawberries and a type of Plum. So that some visitors were inclined to pick things and eat them . She also had a Laburnum tree, again not to be recommended. However, they were all still there when I last visited which was about 5 years ago and I suspect they are still there now.

It is really very poisonous, you can check this out and read some accounts of mishaps by visiting Poison Control Monks-hood  Here is a brief extract from the site.

The severity of aconitine poisoning is related to the rapid onset of life-threatening heart rhythm changes. Other symptoms can include numbness and tingling, slow or fast heart rate, and gastrointestinal manifestations such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and  diarrhea. Respiratory paralysis and heart rhythm abnormalities can lead to death. The treatment is symptomatic and supportive; there is no specific antidote.

I can’t recall having seen it growing in the wild, the photographs here were taken in a friends garden in Clearwell, where I have also photographed Water Avens and Common Bistort. There are lots of ‘garden ‘ varieties of Monkshood, with variations in the colour and also the shape of the flower. The wild type has a relatively low profile to the hood, whereas in some of the garden types the hood is quite developed, looking more like a helmet than a hood. These ones look quite close to the wild type as best as I can judge from photographs that I have seen.

Monkshood is a native plant, pollen of it has been found during pollen analysis of ancient peat cores. However most of the Monk’s-hood plants in Britain are believed to be of garden origin, and these are usually not A. napellus, but a hybrid with the closely-related southern European species A. variegatum. The cross is called A. x cammarum, Hybrid (or Garden) Monk’s-hood. Separating true Monk’s-hood from Garden Monk’s-hood is not always easy, especially as the former is sometimes also cultivated in gardens. Generally when you find a native population it will be a large colony (thousands of plants) whereas garden escapes are more likely to be single plants or just a very few individuals.

There is also a subspecies which is native to Britain and France, according to the BSBI  ‘it is  distinguished by less deeply cut and more finely pointed leaf-segments and a slightly earlier flowering period, belong to subsp. napellus (subsp. anglicum). This is restricted to western Britain and south west France (Jalas & Suominen 1989).’

A similar and related plant is Wolfsbane, this has the same shape flowers although smaller but they are a creamy yellow. It is often grown in gardens but can also be found in the wild as an escape.

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