Sketches for the Poison Flower Fairies

I had an idea some months ago that a series on The poison Flower Fairies would be rather entertaining. Following on from my Flower Fairies go to Seed, a series which has so far amounted to a mere three paintings (all of which I have now sold), I am once again short on fairies…

In fact, the idea for this series came to me following a pot plant-related trip to casualty… but more on that when I come to Euphorbias, in the meantime I thought I would start with a real nasty. This is Monkshood, or Aconitum Napellus:

Monkshood: Aconitum Napellus
Monkshood: Aconitum Napellus

It’s a gorgeous blue, but quite rightly a fairly sinister looking thing, one of the more poisonous relatives of the Buttercup family, and a closer relative of Wolfsbane, which is also as toxic as the name implies.

This is a plant that has been known as a deadly poison since ancient times. In ‘Metamorphoses’ the Roman poet Ovid has a nice story about its creation: one of the Twelve labours of Hercules was to fetch Cerberus, the terrifying three-headed hound of the Underworld, and bring him up to the surface of the earth… using only his bare hands. This he duly did, but Cerberus was downright cross about this and, as he was dragged out of the underworld, fangs gnashing and heads tossing, flecks of monster-dog-spittle sprayed on the stony ground around about. And up sprang the plant Aconitum, or Monkshood. Any plant spawned from the spittle of a three-headed slavering monster realy ought to be treated with care.

Still, it is pretty, I have it growing underneath my pear tree, and it is a favourite with bees, so it’s not all bad.

So, here is my sketch of the Monkshood Fairy:

The Monkshood Fairy: Aconitum Napellus
The Monkshood Fairy: Aconitum Napellus

I have to say I’m a little disappointed to have found no way to put in Cerberus, but I really think that would have made it another kind of picture altogether! There is a little spider in this sketch, however, which refers to another story from Ovid, that Athena sprinkled the plant (or its poison) on Arachne, to turn her into a spider, as punishment for boasting she was so good at weaving. That, of course, is a whole other story, and I already painted Arachne:

[6th March 2012] For work-in-progress of this painting see this later post:

So, and on to my second toxic plant. This one is not nearly so poisonous, no, but it kills more people than any other plant in the world. Ever. Of course it needs no more introduction when I tell you it’s a tobacco plant:


This is a slightly sorry specimen, gone past its best before I thought of painting the Poison Flower Fairies, but strangely appropriate for my purposes, since to my mind the dead flowers do have something of the look of a half-burnt cigarette…

Nicotiana - the Tobacco Fairy
Nicotiana – the Tobacco Fairy

So, these are the first of my disreputable fairies. I am working on another two sketches at least before I begin painting, so there are more to come…

If you’d like to read a lot more about poison plants, this website is very useful:


  1. Hi Nancy – Am loving the idea of Poison Fairies! I had a particularly nasty incident with some foxgloves last year – that almost had me in casualty, dizziness, nausea all from doing a collage with my daughter and using foxglove flowers !!!
    Should have known better ! I love the Monkshood fairy and look forward to seeing the eventual painting!

    1. Oh no Mandy! did you squash them and then lick you fingers or something? Don’t whatever you do put Monkshood in a collage – it’s even worse! Foxgloves are on my list of fairies, too, but by the time I thought of it they were over so I am waiting for this year’s to come up….

  2. […] the original post with the sketch for this painting have a look at this post: Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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