Perennial. Sunny, rocky slopes and ledges, sides of ravines, something of a cliff-dweller. Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territory, south to Florida and Texas. Frequent in northern Ohio. April-July.
Twelve to eighteen inches high, loosely branching, more or less tinged with purple.
Twice or thrice compound. The basal leaves are borne on long slender stems that arise directly from the root and in spring form thick, rounded tufts; each leaflet has three or more lobes with irregular, rounded notches; the upper leaflets are variously shaped, generally rounded.
Irregular, solitary, nodding, scarlet with yellow linings, both terminal and axillary.
Five ovate sepals, colored like the petals.
Of five petals, each a slender tube, tapering to a thickened rounded point, forming the upright and nearly straight spurs.
Many; yellow-tipped, projecting.
Five carpels, slender, projecting; forming erect pods when mature; seeds black, smooth, shining.
Pollinated by bumblebees and humming-birds. Nectar-bearing. Stamens mature before the stigmas.
The Columbine dwells of choice on sunny, rocky slopes in open woods where the soil is sparse and well drained. It often prospers with hardly sufficient earth to cover its roots. The form of the flower is unique and exquisitely beautiful. The petals are lengthened into hollow spurs in shape like trumpets with a drop of nectar in each of the closed ends. The sepals are the petal-like leaves between the trumpets and of the same color. The flowers nod and the stamens protrude like a golden tassel. The pollen of the outer row ripens while the inner row is still undeveloped, and so these act as a sheath for the stigmas. After all the stamens have discharged their pollen, the styles awaken from their sleep, lengthen, the feathery stigmas open and, curving, place themselves at the entrance of each cornucopia while the flower continues its honey call to the bee. After the stigmas are fertilized the blossom fades, the nodding stem becomes erect, and the group of seed-pods mature erect and rigid at the summit of a stiff and straightened stalk.
Wild Columbine. Aquilegia Canadensis
Both the common and the botanical name of the Columbine are puzzles; they seem so entirely without rhyme or reason. Columbine is apparently derived from columba, a dove, and Aguilegia from aquila, an eagle; but it requires a great deal of imagination to see any appropriateness in either. If we take Aguilegia as Water-Bearer, the case is no easier. Resemblance of the petals when looked at from a certain angle to the heads of pigeons around a dish, which was a favorite device of ancient artists, may perhaps explain the columba. This likeness is more apparent in the case of the European species, Aguilegia vulgaris, than in our native forms. Whatever the name, the flower has long been a favorite. It is found as a border upon an illuminated manuscript of the fifteenth century, and was at one time combined with the red rose as a badge of the royal house of Lancaster. The Wild Columbine was sent to Hampton Court during the reign of Charles I. An old play of Chapman's (1600) shows the Columbine as an emblem of ingratitude:
"What's that, a Columbine? No, that thankless flower grows not in my garden."
English Columbine from an Angle which Gives the Doves
It is also one of Ophelia's flowers:
"There's fennel for you and columbines."