Horticulture Highlight: Columbine

May 2, 2023

…A woodland walk,
A quest of river grapes, a mocking thrush,
A wild rose or a rock-loving columbine
Salve my wounds…

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Referred by some as an old-fashioned favorite, Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis provides a curious and beautiful ornamental interest. The genus Aquilegia comprises 60-70 species found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Aquilegia is within the RANUNCULACEAE, the buttercup family, which also includes the genera Anemone, Helleborus, and Xanthorhiza which we have discussed previously.

Skirting the rocks at the forest edge
With a running flame from ledge to ledge,
Or swaying deeper in shadowy glooms,
A smouldering fire in her dusky blooms;
Bronzed and molded by wind and sun,
Maddening, gladdening every one
With gipsy beauty full and fine,
A health to the crimson columbine.

-Author unknown

Memorable for their dangling red and yellow flowers Aquilegia canadensis are the only columbine native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan and in most of our states east of the Rocky Mountains. These unusual shaped, downward facing, flowers are composed of five sepals and five petals with each having a one-inch-long, upward pointing spur. The spurs contain nectar that attracts hummingbirds and long-tongued insects. Beneath the stalked flowers are attractive compound leaves having rounded lobes.

…Thou comest not when violets lean
O’er wandering brooks and springs unseen,
Or columbines, in purple dressed,
Nod o’er the ground-bird’s hidden nest…

-William Cullen Bryant

This month look for some of our Columbine at Asa Gray Garden, in Consecration Dell, and on Indian Ridge Path among other locations.

…and the word “columbine” did not enter
the consciousness of a nation…

-Hayan Charara

About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →

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