Columbine

My Columbine started growing almost before the snow was gone. When I cleared away some leaves left from the fall, there were a bunch of tiny little Columbine plants. Columbine are definitely one of my top five favorite flowers, and I look forward to seeing them each spring. Even though it still feels like winter here in Michigan, I’ve got 4 different varieties that are blooming right now.

Columbine is the common name for plants in the genus Aquilegia, a group of 60-70 species of perennials in the family Ranunculaceae. Columbine is from a Latin word meaning dove. It is said that the long-spurred Columbine flower looks like a circle of doves. Personally, I’m having a hard time seeing that. Found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in meadows and woodlands as wildflowers, there are many beautiful hybrid varieties available in garden centers. They make a great, long lasting cut flower, and even the foliage is attractive.

Most Columbine have distinctive flowers, bell shaped, with 5 spurred petals, and 5 sepals. The long spurs are where the nectar is, waiting for bees, hummingbirds and hawkmoths. There are some Columbine which do not have the spurs and some have double flowers also. Flowers range from white to almost black and many are bicolor. Hardy in zones 3-9, Columbine grow between 1 and 3 feet tall, and spread about a foot and a half. Flowers can be up to 3 inches long. Depending on the variety, some blossoms hang down and others face up.

Planted in well drained soil, in partial shade, Columbine will start blooming in early to mid Spring, and continue at least into June. I’ve had flowers on mine, off and on, right up until the frost. Easily grown from seed, they will re-seed themselves if allowed. To grow them from seed,  scatter the seed in early spring, but don’t cover it. The seeds need a cold, moist period, so if grown indoors, the planted seeds should be placed in a refrigerator for 3 weeks.

Columbine grown from seed will usually not bloom the first year. If you want flowers right away, buying plants at the nursery will work better. Having different varieties of Columbine planted near each other may lead to new hybrids, as they easily cross-pollinate. Plants grown from the seeds of the hybrids may or may not resemble the parent plants.

Some sources talk about pruning your Columbine. Here in Michigan, in zone 5, that will not be necessary. In the winter, it dies back to the ground, and brand new plants grow in the spring.

The seeds and roots of Columbine are highly poisonous. They can cause severe inflammation of the stomach and intestines and also heart palpitations, if ingested. Despite this, the flowers have been used as a condiment, in small quantities. I think I’ll pass on that.

Columbine are a short-lived perennial. At the most, they may last 5 years. If they are allowed to go to seed, they might live only 3 years. I do not remove the spent flowers, I let them go to seed. Columbine must be about the easiest flower to collect seed from. When they dry out, they conveniently open at the top. To collect seeds, you simply have to hold the seed pod over a container and shake. They fall right out. When it cools down in the fall, I scatter some of the seeds on the ground, and save some to plant in the spring. After doing this for many years, I always have a lot of Columbine plants that bloom, and I never have to buy any new ones.

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4 Responses to “Columbine”

  1. Kem Says:

    Columbine are one of my favorites too. I have a few in the front flower bed. They sprang from 2 plants I put in when we first moved here. By just letting them pop up where ever, I ended up with a surprising variety of colors. The past two years, I’ve had to keep an eye our for cut-worm, though.

    I never would have considered eating columbine! I have eaten an orchid bloom once–a phaleanopsis that was served in a salad in a restaurant. It tastes like celery (blaah) and it seemed like a waste of a pretty flower.

  2. Growing Herbs and Vegetables : From Seed to Harvest Says:

    […] Columbine « Margaret's Garden Blog […]

  3. Aunt Mary Says:

    Your mom has given me a number of columbine plants which have made it through customs every time but have never survived my yard. Then, all of a sudden, this year there they are. Two of them. I am so surprised and thrilled to see them. Let’s see if I can keep them going.

  4. suzicate Says:

    I scrolled through your pictures on several post. Beautiful. You have quite a green thumb. I have some pretty blooms this years…no thanks to me, perennials – they do all the work.

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