Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Wild Columbine


    Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a beautiful flower in the Ranunculus Family with all sorts of folklore. It has several common names: American Columbine, Red Columbine, Eastern Red Columbine, Canadian Columbine, Eastern Columbine, Rock Bells, Rock Lily, Cluckies, Bells, Honeysuckle, Jack-in-Trousers, Granny's Nightcap, Alaly, Meeting Houses, Turk's Cap, and Culverwort. Lots of folklore is tied in with their common and scientific names. For instance, Culverwort, comes from the Saxon culfre meaning "pigeon" and wyrt meaning "herb". As far as their most common name, Columbine is derived from the Latin for "dove" due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered all together. This is also why another name of Meeting Houses is also used. Aquilegia the Genus name also has a meaning. It comes from the Latin word for "eagle" because the flower's spurs are said to resemble an eagle's talons. The species name canadensis is due to its home range. The reference to "eagles", as well as its presence in many coats of arms, even won it favor to a small but vocal committee that wanted Wild Columbine to serve as the national flower. They failed in this attempt, though one species, Aquilegia caerulea, was chosen as the state flower for Colorado.

The columbine's flowers spurs resemble eagle talons.

    It is probably just as well that it is not our national flower since it has other symbolic meanings as well. Columbine is the symbol of cuckoldry and a deserted lover in the Victorian language of flowers. It was considered an insult to give it to a woman and bad luck to give it to a man, or the other way. Either way it was not a proper gift. 
    Columbines have been used medicinally in Europe for centuries to cure everything from headaches to small pox. Many tribes also used Wild Columbine for many reasons. According to North American ethnobotanist Daniel Moerman, the Cherokee used it for heart trouble. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) used it for treating poison ivy and other itches, and the roots for for kidneys. The Meskwaki used it for diarrhea, stomach and bowel trouble, and as well as mixing the seeds with tobacco for smoking. They even used the smoked seeds as a love potion. The Ojibwa also used it for stomach troubles. The Omaha, Ponca and Pawnee used it for headaches, as well as for perfume. As they also have astringent and diuretic properties, and have prussic acid that can have a narcotic effect on some people, they can be potentially poisonous as well. However, the flowers themselves are sometimes considered edible.

The red tubular flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds.

    The flowers of our local Eastern Columbine are red and tubular. They are designed to attract and be pollinated by the long tongues of hummingbirds who prefer and can see the color red, that many insects don't see. But some bees and other insects learn to cheat and eat a hole at the end of the spur to get to the nectar, bypassing any pollination. Our Eastern Red Columbines is a host plant to 12 different caterpillars. 

In the wild, Wild Columbine is often found growing out of rocks or other niches where there's little competition from other plants. 

    Wild Columbine is an easy to grow perennial in gardens. The seeds are easy to propagate, but do not like competition from other plants. They normally grow in rocky situations with little competition, but are not picky about soil conditions, whether dry or wet conditions, growing to about 3ft tall. While they can take full sun, they prefer some shade, even growing occasionally under evergreens. They will self seed for many years and can take both partial shade and sun. They have few garden pests. They occasionally get Columbine Sawfly, Pristiphora rufipes, and the Leaf Miner Phytomyza aquilegiae, but otherwise are relatively pest free. Most mammals do not try and eat the leaves, it even being deer resistant to a degree. 

Wild columbine growing out of the cinder blocks that line my drive way.

    This plant has attractive foliage, and as mentioned, except that it does not like competition, is very adaptable. Picked to be the Virginia Flower of the Year for 1998 and the North Carolina Wildflower of the Year in 1987, this plant has a lot going for it both in the garden and in the wild. Whether planted to attract hummingbirds or as an attractive spring flower, this plant deserves more attention. I always enjoy mine, which self-seeds along the rock wall of my driveway. It is carefree and pops up in any opening along my old driveway. 

Wild Columbine self-seeding along my driveway.