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Adonis Vernalis and Adonis Amurensis

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Adonis picture. As the photo shows, Adonis is truly a golden Greek!

Amur Adonis flower picture.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy for Adonis Plants:

Plant taxonomy classifies the Adonis plants with which I deal primarily in this article as Adonis amurensis 'Fukujukai'. The common name is "Amur Adonis." Fukujukai is the cultivar name. Adonis vernalis (also called "sweet vernal") is one of the more popular Adonis flowers, so I also make a few mentions of that species in this article.

Plant Type for Adonis Flowers:

Most Adonis plants are herbaceous perennials (but see below under "Other Types: Adonis Vernalis, Etc.").

Characteristics of Adonis Plants:

Adonis amurensis 'Fukujukai' and Adonis vernalis both bear yellow flowers (see photo) in early spring. In fact, the name Adonis vernalis translates as "Adonis of spring." The flower color of both is sometimes said to be "buttercup yellow" -- appropriate, since they are in the Ranunculus (Buttercup) family. Both Adonis amurensis 'Fukujukai' and Adonis vernalis go dormant at some point in the summer.

Adonis amurensis grows ca. 1 foot tall, with flowers 1-2 inches across. The leaves are fern-like.

Adonis vernalis is known to be a poisonous plant; one should be wary of the whole genus.

Planting Zones for Adonis Plants:

Indigenous to northeastern Asia, Amur Adonis is best grown in zones 3-7.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Adonis Plants:

Grow Adonis flowers in full sun to partial shade (performance is usually superior in full sun) and in a moist but well-drained, loamy soil enriched with humus.

Uses, Care for Adonis Plants:

Adonis flowers are well-suited to rock gardens. These clump-forming perennials can be divided for propagation when they go dormant in summer.

Origin of the Name:

In Greek mythology, Adonis was a Greek youth loved by Aphrodite. But Adonis was gored by a boar and died. Through the power of the mourning goddess, a red flower sprang up from the youth's blood on the spot. Sound familiar? There are similar Greek myths regarding the narcissus (daffodil) flower and the hyacinth flower, for example.

But there can be a twist in these stories for us moderns: the flower of the myth is not always the flower that we know by the same name. It's not in this case: What we call the "Adonis flower" is not the flower referenced in the Greek myth. That honor belongs to the anemone (see below).

Not Related to "Adonis Blue":

Newcomers to gardening may confuse the name of Adonis flowers with a type of butterfly bush called "Adonis Blue." But the two are, in fact, totally unrelated.

Outstanding Characteristic of Adonis Plants:

These perennials bear attractive foliage and cheerfully colored flowers. But no doubt, their outstanding feature is their precociousness in blooming. Depending upon your climate, the Amur type will begin blooming in late February to early March. The spring flowers that are first to bloom have little competition for our affections and are a true delight to the winter-weary!

Other Types: Adonis Vernalis, Etc.:

As mentioned above, most types of Adonis are perennials; some, however, are annuals. Adonis aestivalis (sometimes given as Adonis annua) and Adonis autumnalis are annuals that bear red flowers with a black center. Their common name, "pheasant's eye" derives from the fact that their red flowers are reminiscent of the red eye patch that the male pheasant sports.

Interestingly, Adonis vernalis and the other yellow-flowered members of this genus are also sometimes called "pheasant's eye," in spite of their flower color; perhaps they picked up the nickname by association with the red Adonises. Some people are more precise when using this common name for Adonis vernalis and the other yellow-flowered Adonises and specify "yellow pheasant eye." Adonis vernalis, a native of Europe and Asia, is also sometimes called "false hellebore" (as in the Lenten rose hellebore).

If I had to pick a "real Adonis," if you will, from among this genus, it would have to be one of the annual types: since they bear red flowers, they relate more closely to the myth of Adonis than do the yellow-flowered types. The anemone in the myth is, after all, red in color, symbolic of the blood of the slain youth.

But why, perhaps you ask, are these flowers called "Adonis" at all, when the flower of the myth is the anemone? In a sense, isn't this a genus of imposters? Yes, but the red anemone and the red Adonis are, in fact, similar in appearance. That's not surprising, since the Anemone and Adonis genera are related, botanically, both being in the Ranunculus family (as is another similar-looking flower: Pasque flower). From this similarity in appearance, it was not too big a leap to pay a fitting tribute to the myth and name the genus "Adonis."


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