This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This beautiful plant has not been found in any early deposits. It ranges throughout the Northern Warm Temperate Zone in Europe, Morocco, the Canaries, Siberia, and Asia as far as the west part of the Himalayas. It is absent from Hunts, Brecon, Radnor, Montgomery, S. Lincs, S.E. Yorks. In Scotland it is found in Dumfries and Kirkcudbright, doubtfully elsewhere. In Yorkshire it is found at 1000 ft., and is common to the N.E. and W. of Ireland.
The Wild Columbine is one of those plants which, though conspicuous enough, elude the grasp of all but the more diligent botanists and plant-hunters. Such plants, when discovered, serve to mark a red-letter day in the annals of the collector. It is fond of rocky knolls in woods, where it secures shelter from heat and wind. Nestled amid such fastnesses on a small scale it presents one of the most pleasing pictures in a woodland scene, standing erect and graceful in a natural clearing in the oakwood amid wide patches of bracken or the bluebell, relieved by graceful hanging panicles of Millet Grass.
Accustomed as we are to this plant in the garden we know its tall, graceful habit, with large, drooping, blue flowers in a raceme or group, and leafy stem below. In habit it resembles Meadow Rue, but differs from it and all other flowers of the Buttercup group in many particulars.
The inbent hollow bottom of the petal in the corolla gave it the name Aquilegia, in allusion to the incurved talons of an eagle's claws. Columbine, again, refers to the flower's shape, like a dove's nest. The flat part of the petal of the flower is blunt and shorter than the stamens. The five sepals are petaloid. There are five follicles, which are erect, open above. The seeds are black and shining, minutely granular.
This plant is often 2 ft. high or even 3 ft. It is in flower from May to July and is perennial.
The five petals are large and conspicuous, each one hollowed from the claw upwards, to form a hollow spur or horn-shaped cavity, 15-22 mm. long, with a cup-like mouth, admitting a humble bee's head, and the narrow tubular part is curved inwards and downwards above, containing the honey secreted by a fleshy thickening in the spur. Bees with a long proboscis hold on to the flower below, clutching hold of the base of the spur with their fore legs, and with their mid and hind legs they clasp the stamens and pistil, which project obliquely downwards in the middle. They introduce the head into the aperture of the spur where the outer wall touches the end of the proboscis following the curve of the spur. In younger flowers the hind part of the bee's body touches the anthers, closely surrounding the carpels covered outside with pollen, and in older flowers the same parts touch the carpels which have become elongate, and spread the stigmas farther apart. So cross-pollination follows.
The visitors are Bombus hortorum, B. terrestris, B. agrorum, Halictus. B. terrestris cannot reach the honey and bites a hole at the base of the spur in order to obtain it. Holes may frequently be seen and are due to this cause.
The Columbine is adapted to wind dispersal, the numerous seeds being shaken out of the follicle, open above, when the latter is ripe.
It is a rock plant, choosing a rock soil, which may be granitic, schistose, or even a sand rock with some humus.
Aecidium aquilegiae is a cluster-cup fungus which lives on this plant. The moths, Gray Chi, Polia chi, Anistoma u/maria, Small Ranunculus, Hecatera dysodea, Pterophorus cosmodactylus, the Homop-teron, Hyalopteris trirhoda, and the fly, Phytomyza aquilegiae, frequent it.
Columbine is from the Latin columba, pigeon, in allusion to the shape of the flower. Aquilegia, a name given by Tragus, is from aquila, an eagle, the spur of the corolla being like an eagle's claw. Vulgaris means common, though it is rather rare. Its English names are Blue Starry, Boots-and-shoes, Capon's-feather, Capon's-tail, Cock's-foot, Colourbine, Cullavine, Culverkeys, Culverwort, Curran-bine, Dove's-foot, Granny's Night-cap, Hawk's-feet, Hen and Chickens, Lady's Shoes, Lady's Slippers, Snapdragon, Sowdwort, Two Faces under a Hat.
Culverkeys is given in allusion to the shape, like a door or culver, culver being-columbe, and the little flowerets little keys (compare also Culverwort). It was once known as Herba leonis, and believed to be the lion's favourite plant.
In the fourteenth century it was recommended as a remedy for quinsy. Then a tincture of it was employed to strengthen the gums. The plant has long been cultivated in the garden, and is a de-lightful flower.
Essential Specific Characters: 13. Aquilegia vulgaris, L. - Stem with few leaves, leaf biternate, lobed, flower blue or white, 5 sepals petaloid, spur of petal incurved containing honey, limb shorter than stamens, capsule a follicle, hairy.
Photo. Dr. Somerville Hastings - Columbine (aquilegia Vulgaris, L.)
Sweet Violet (viola Odorata, L.)
This plant has not been discovered in any ancient deposits in which seeds of living plants are preserved. At the present day it is found in Europe, North Africa, North and West Asia, as far as the Himalayas. In Great Britain it is absent from Radnor, Cardigan, in S. Wales; in N. Wales it occurs only in Carnarvon, Flint, Denbigh, and Anglesea; in the Mersey province it is absent in Mid Lancs; and is found also in Scotland in Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Renfrew, Peebles, Selkirk, Rox burgh, Linlithgow, Mid and North Perth. In some of these it was doubtless introduced. It is wild in the east and south of England, and perhaps also in the east of Ireland. It occurs in the Channel Islands.
The Sweet Violet is the very breath of the woods in early spring, and banks of violets with deep-blue flowers carpet the woods and thickets over the greater part of the country. One may pick the Lesser Celandine with the sweet-scented Violet growing side by side. Besides the shaded woods the Sweet Violet lurks under hedges along the shadier lanes or in the fields. Its existence near houses and villages has cast doubt on its being native everywhere.