Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dwarf Monkshood along Sourdough Creek Road

Yesterday I was up at Sourdough Creek, about 15 miles south of Twelve Mile Summit on the Steese Highway. I was taking photos of historic buildings, but I also spotted a small patch of dwarf monkshood (Aconitum delphimifolium ssp paradoxum) along the Sourdough Creek Road. This is a much smaller version of Aconitum delphimifolium D.C. (another Alaskan wildflower), which can grow up 5 feet tall.  Dwarf Monkshood usually doesn’t grow taller than a foot or so.

There are over 200 different species of monkshood. The plant, also called wolfbane, contains significant amounts of psuedaconatine, a very deadly alkaloid poison. All parts of the plant are poisonous, especially the root, seeds and new leaves. Psuedacontaine can be absorbed through the skin so even handling the plant can cause health problems.

Kodiak Island Natives used to grind up monkshood root to prepare aconitine, a poison they used for hunting sea mammals. The hunters would use poison-tipped arrow for hunting sea lions, and poison-tipped lances to hunt whales.

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