Sunny yellow blooms fringed with a fringed ruff poking through snow is my first sign that spring has sprung. Eranthis hyamalis, or Winter Aconite, in the buttercup family, is a spring ephemeral, which means that it is a short-lived plant above ground with a burst of blooms, then disappears, remaining under ground until next winter.
The plant takes advantage of the deciduous woodland canopy, flowering at the time of maximum sunlight reaching the forest floor, then completely dying back to its underground tuber after flowering. So, for about eight weeks starting in late February, I see the plant above ground, celebrate its arrival and the bees devour it! Flowering when little else is in bloom, the blossom is a very important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees. On a nice sunny day above 45 degrees in late winter, the bees are darting in and out of the blossoms, quickly taking advantage of the brief show of color. Deer leave it alone as well – another selling point!
Resembling little buttercups, you can start with dried tiny bulbs, or tubers, in the fall along with other fall planted bulbs.
But Aconites are much easier to establish with “green” transplants. That simply means that you dig up the actively growing plants, separate them, and plant in a new location. Know someone with a nice spread of these flowers? Then, bring your friend a gift and take some home for your own starters.
I have often transplanted my plants to new locations so that the sunny yellow flowers are popping up all over my property. And yes, I hand them out to needy garden friends! The foliage dies back about the same time as lawn mowing begins and I just let the foliage wither and die back naturally. By the time the foliage dies back, it is time to plant annuals in the same spot vacated by the Aconites.
I started my Winter Aconites with corms which resemble a dried pea by planting them five inches deep and waiting to see how many emerged in the spring Only about 25% of the corms sprouted but that was enough to start my stock going for years to come as they will seed in. I have read that the little flowers can become invasive by reseeding in odd places, but I welcome all comers!
Such a cheerful little flower that is attractive to all pollinators is welcome in my garden anytime. A good companion to Snowdrops, Winter Aconites will live for years without any disturbance. The flowers push up through a stand of Germander and other thick ground covers and stick around for weeks, opening when the sun comes out warming them, and closing when nightfall comes.
For more information about planting and buying these wonderful spring flowers, go to Fall Planting Guide at Longfield Gardens. Put these on your calendar for fall ordering.