WILD COLUMBINE





(Aquilegia Canadensis) Crowfoot family



Flower - Red outside, yellow within, irregular, 1 to 2 in. long,

solitary, nodding from a curved footstalk from the upper

leaf-axils. Petals 5, funnel-shaped, but quickly narrowing into

long, erect, very slender hollow spurs, rounded at the tip and

united below by the 5 spreading red sepals, between which the

straight spurs ascend; numerous stamens and 5 pistils projecting.

Stem: 1 to 2 ft. high; branching, soft-hairy or smooth. Leaves:

More or less divided, the lobes with rounded teeth; large lower

compound leaves on long petioles. Fruit: An erect pod, each of

the 5 divisions tipped with a long, sharp beak.

Preferred Habitat - Rocky places, rich woodland.

Flowering Season - April-July.

Distribution - Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territory; southward

to the Gulf States. Rocky Mountains.



Although under cultivation the columbine nearly doubles its size,

it never has the elfin charm in a conventional garden that it

possesses wild in Nature's. Dancing in red and yellow petticoats

to the rhythm of the breeze, along the ledge of overhanging

rocks, it coquettes with some Punchinello as if daring him to

reach her at his peril. Who is he? Let us sit a while on the

rocky ledge and watch for her lovers.



Presently a big muscular bumblebee booms along. Owing to his

great strength, an inverted, pendent blossom, from which he must

cling upside down, has no more terrors for him than a trapeze for

the trained acrobat. His long tongue - if he is one of the

largest of our sixty-two species of Bombus - can suck almost any

flower unless it is especially adapted to night-flying sphinx

moths, but can he drain this? He is the truest benefactor of the

European columbine (q.v.), whose spurs suggested the talons of an

eagle (aquila) to imaginative Linnaeus when he gave this group of

plants its generic name. Smaller bumblebees, unable through the

shortness of their tongues to feast in a legitimate manner, may

be detected nipping holes in the tips of all columbines, where

the nectar is secreted, just as they do in larkspurs, Dutchman's

breeches, squirrel corn, butter and eggs, and other flowers whose

deeply hidden nectaries make dining too difficult for the little

rogues. Fragile butterflies, absolutely dependent on nectar,

hover near our showy wild columbine with its five tempting horns

of plenty, but sail away again, knowing as they do that their

weak legs are not calculated to stand the strain of an inverted

position from a pendent flower, nor are their tongues adapted to

slender tubes unless these may be entered from above. The tongues

of both butterflies and moths bend readily only when directed

beneath their bodies. It will be noticed that our columbine's

funnel-shaped tubes contract just below the point where the

nectar is secreted - doubtless to protect it from small bees.

When we see the honeybee or the little wild bees - Haliclus

chiefly - on the flower, we may know they get pollen only.



Finally a ruby-throated hummingbird whirs into sight. Poising

before a columbine, and moving around it to drain one spur after

another until the five are emptied, he flashes like thought to

another group of inverted red cornucopias, visits in turn every

flower in the colony, then whirs away quite as suddenly as he

came. Probably to him, and no longer to the outgrown bumblebee,

has the flower adapted itself. The European species wears blue,

the bee's favorite color according to Sir John Lubbock; the

nectar hidden in its spurs, which are shorter, stouter, and

curved, is accessible only to the largest humblebees. There are

no hummingbirds in Europe. (See jewel-weed.) Our native

columbine, on the contrary, has longer, contracted, straight,

erect spurs, most easily drained by the ruby-throat which, like

Eugene Field, ever delights in "any color at all so long as it's

red."



To help make the columbine conspicuous, even the sepals become

red; but the flower is yellow within, it is thought to guide

visitors to the nectaries. The stamens protrude like a golden

tassel. After the anthers pass the still immature stigmas, the

pollen of the outer row ripens, ready for removal, while the

inner row of undeveloped stamens still acts as a sheath for the

stigmas. Owing to the pendent position of the flower, no pollen

could fall on the latter in any case. The columbine is too highly

organized to tolerate self-fertilization. When all the stamens

have discharged their pollen, the styles then elongate; and the

feathery stigmas, opening and curving sidewise, bring themselves

at the entrance of each of the five cornucopias, just the

position the anthers previously occupied. Probably even the small

bees, collecting pollen only, help carry some from flower to

flower but perhaps the largest bumblebees, and certainly the

hummingbird, must be regarded as the columbine's legitimate

benefactors. Caterpillars of one of the dusky wings (Papilio

lucilius) feed on the leaves.



Very rarely is the columbine white, and then its name, derived

from words meaning two doves, does not seem wholly misapplied.



"O Columbine, open your folded wrapper

Where two twin turtle-doves dwell,"



lisp thousands of children speaking the "Songs of Seven" as a

first "piece" at school. How Emerson loved the columbine! Dr.

Prior says the flower was given its name because "of the

resemblance of the nectaries to the heads of pigeons in a ring

around a dish - a favorite device of ancient artists."



This exquisite plant was forwarded from the Virginia colony to

England for the gardens of Hampton Court by a young kinsman of

Tradescant, gardener and herbalist to Charles I.





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