Plant of the Week: Winter Aconite

Photo by Phil VachonAn early spring bloom, winter aconite is an important source of food for foraging pollinators. Photo by Phil Vachon

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Eranthis hyemalis, or winter aconite, is a cheerful little flower and a true harbinger of spring, often appearing before the last of the snow has melted away. Because of their early bloom, Eranthis are one of the earliest available food sources for foraging pollinators. Their flowers have evolved a bright yellow color and special funnel-shaped nectaries that help them fill this particularly important niche in the ecosystem.

Both the Latin name, Eranthis hyemalis, and the common name, winter aconite, are interesting studies in how plants were named centuries ago when botanists first began describing and classifying them. Many Latin names actually come from the classical Greek common name for the plant, with a Latin ending added. Eranthis was “Latinized” from the Greek er for "spring" and anthos for "flower." The Latin hyemalis means “belonging to winter."

The plant’s modern common name may be a case of mistaken identity. The leaves of Eranthis hyemalis are very similar to those of Aconitum species, hence winter aconite. The true Aconitum is a highly toxic plant that was used to poison wolves in the Middle Ages, which may explain why Eranthis is commonly thought to be poisonous. While Eranthis belongs to the plant family Ranunculaceae – or the buttercup family – which does contain many poisonous plants, scientists have not isolated toxic compounds in Eranthis species.

Winter aconite can be found on the High Line between Little West 12th Street and 14th Street.

Download our April Bloom Guide.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects — become a member of Friends of the High Line today!

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