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Northern Monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense)

Life history

Species overview

Northern Monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense), a Wisconsin Threatened and Federal Threatened plant, is found on moist, moss ledges and cliff bases with cold air drainage resulting in a cool soil environment. It is also found on partially shaded sandstone cliffs and talus slopes. Blooming occurs late June through late September (peaks in August); fruiting occurs early August through late September. The optimal identification period for this species is late June through late September.

Synonyms: Aconitum columbianum ssp. columbianum, Aconitum columbianum ssp. pallidum, Aconitum columbianum var. bakeri, Aconitum columbianum var. ochroleucum, Aconitum geranioides auct. pro parte, Aconitum hansenii auct. pro parte, Aconitum infectum, Aconitum leibergii auct. pro parte, Aconitum mogollonicum auct. pro parte, Aconitum noveboracense var. quasiciliatum, Aconitum uncinatum ssp. noveboracense, Aconitum viviparum auct. pro parte


  • Distinguishing characteristics: In flower, monkshood is likely to be confused only with larkspur (Delphinium spp.). Here monkshood can be distinguished by its hooded sepals and commonly prostrate habit. Other cliff species that may be confused with monkshood include columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), which has smaller, more rounded leaves and Sullivant's coolwort (Sullivantia sullivantii), which has smaller leaves and not the sprawling habit of monkshood.
  • Flower characteristics: Inflorescence axis and pedicels with straight, spreading hairs 1 mm in length; flowers dark purple to blue (occasionally white), hooded, 2.5 cm long borne at the top of the plant; hood or helmet 14 to 17 mm long and 14 to 17 mm in height, rounded and dome-like.
  • Fruit characteristics: Follicule with 3 carpels, dehiscent with each carpel opening along one seam at maturity.
  • Leaf characteristics: Leaves broad and palmately divided into 5 to 7 lobes with each lobe deeply cleft or toothed, glabrous; cauline (stem) leaves become smaller upward.


  • Blooming phenology: late June through late September (peaks in August)
  • Fruiting phenology: early August through late September
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late June through late September


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction: Primarily from collateral tubers that arise from the parent tuber, but also sometimes reproducing from below-ground aerial bulbels or adventious buds from lateral roots
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Tsuga canadensis, Pinus strobus, Betula alleghaniensis. Glacial relict. Pollinated by bumblebees. Seeds, in part, dispersed by water. Germination rate is variable and unpredictable, depending on year and location (locally and range-wide).

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Northern Monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Aconitum noveboracense in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in WisconsinLT
State RankS2
Global RankG3
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found on moist, moss ledges and cliff bases with cold air drainage resulting in a cool soil environment. It is also found on partially shaded sandstone cliffs and talus slopes.
  • Soils: Moist, slightly acidic soils, typically on sandstone.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Northern Monkshood. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Moist Cliff 3
Algific Talus Slope 2

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Northern Monkshood. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
Western Coulee and Ridges 3

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.
  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.
  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.


Northern Monkshood Photo.

Photo by  staff, Wisconsin DNR.

Northern Monkshood Photo.

Northern wild monkshood is a habitat specialist that grows on algific talus slopes and moist sandstone cliffs in the Western Coulees and Ridges Ecological Landscape.

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Northern Monkshood Photo.

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Northern Monkshood Photo.

Photo © Robert H. Read.

Northern Monkshood Photo.

Photo by Armund Bartz, Wisconsin DNR.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition