Number Four is at the Door!

Several of my childhood memories are about food. One of my earliest recollections (I was 4 or 5) is of a unpalatable salad with green lettuce and orange carrots in a yellow Jello. I remember spooning what was on my plate back into the container and misleading my mother into thinking I ate it. Another more pleasant memory is of a pea, carrot, and corn stir-fry which I really liked – another green, orange, and yellow combo. See where I am going? Whenever I encounter a “wild” Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) visions of stir-fry dance in my head – not so much Jello salad.

The Wild Columbine in all its glory!

The Eastern Red Columbine, or Canadian Columbine, is the most common of dozens of native varieties in the southern Appalachians. Western varieties are blue, white, red, and yellow and will interbreed freely with our regional Columbine. There is even a European cultivar which is blue and white and may escape from home gardens.

The Colorado Columbine has a more upright blossom structure.

Our native Aquilegia is red, orange, and yellow with attractive light-green lobed leaves. It grows in clumps on cliffs with the Fire Pink and in well-drained not-too-rich soil in the bottomlands. The Latin name refers to an Eagle since the five upraised nectar recepticles are said to resemble talons of the raptor. The anthers and stamens point downward and limit entry to specialized hummingbirds amd butterflys.

Eastern Columbine making its home on cliffs. Note the three lobed leaf pattern.

Native Americans consumed the blossoms and rubbed the flowers on their hands as a sweet smelling aphrodisiac. Be careful though as the seeds and roots of all Columbines are very toxic and will cause heart palpitations. Columbine clusters can be started from seeds very easily and will bloom in their second year. Always plant in a shady, well-drained environment as direct sun exposure for long periods will scald the leaves and stunt growth and flowering.

Yellow Buttercup with a somewhat similar leaf pattern.

The Columbine community in the Smokies and North Georgia consists of Fire Pinks, Phacelia (especially purple), Bluets, yellow Buttercups (Columbine is actually a member of the Buttercup family), and wild Blue Geraniums. The flowering window lasts comparitively long from late March to mid-May although the first week in April is prime-time along the lower Little River gorge in the Smokies.

The wild Geranium with a False Solomon’s Seal at the top and top-left.

The Wild Columbine with its resplendent red, orange, and yellow blossoms framed by its bright green foilage is a natural top-ten wildflower and the fact that it is easy to grow in home gardens makes it a doubly enjoyable addition. In fact, I have just made a decision to add Columbine to my new shade garden so I can enjoy thoughts of home cooked “stir-fry” every Spring.

Want Hummingbirds? Plant Columbines!

1 thought on “Number Four is at the Door!

  1. I love columbines. Once life gets back to normal, I will have beautiful plants in my garden.


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