Twelve to eighteen inches high. Stem. - Branching. Leaves. - Much-divided, the leaflets lobed. Flowers. - Large, bright red, yellow within, nodding. Calyx. - Of five red petal-like sepals. Corolla. - Of five petals in the form of large hollow spurs, which are red without and yellow within. Stamens. - Numerous. Pistils. - Five, with slender styles.
- A woodland walk, A quest of river-grapes, a mocking thrush, A wild-rose or rock-loving columbine, Salve my worst wounds, declares Emerson; and while perhaps few among us are able to make so light-hearted and sweeping a claim for ourselves, yet many will admit the soothing power of which the woods and fields know the secret, and will own that the ordinary annoyances of life may be held more or less in abeyance by one who lives in close sympathy with nature.
About the columbine there is a daring loveliness which stamps it on the memories of even those who are not ordinarily minute observers. It contrives to secure a foothold in the most precipitous and uncertain of nooks, its jewel-like flowers gleaming from their lofty perches with a graceful insouciance which awakens our sportsmanlike instincts and fires us with the ambition to equal it in daring and make its loveliness our own. Perhaps it is as well if our greediness be foiled and we get a tumble for our pains, for no flower loses more with its surroundings than the columbine. Indeed, these destructive tendencies which are strong within most of us generally defeat themselves by decreasing our pleasure in a blossom the moment we have ruthlessly and without purpose snatched it from its environment. If we honestly wish to study its structure, or to bring into our homes for preservation a bit of the woods' loveliness, its interest and beauty are sure to repay us. But how many pluck every striking flower they see only to toss it carelessly aside when they reach their destination, if they have not already dropped it by the way. Surely if in such small matters sense and self-control were inculcated in children, more would grow up to the poet's standard of worthiness :
Hast thou named all the birds without a gun ?
Loved the wood-rose and left it on its stalk?
At rich men's tables eaten bread and pulse ?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust i
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay ?
O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine ! *
The name of columbine is derived from colomba - a dove, but its significance is disputed. Some believe that it was associated with the bird-like claws of the blossom; while Dr. Prior maintains that it refers to the "resemblance of its nectaries to the heads of pigeons in a ring around a dish, a favorite device of ancient artists."
Plate LXXVIII. Wild Columbine - A. Canadensis
The meaning of the generic title is also doubtful. Gray derives it from aquilegus - water-drawing, but gives no further explanation, while other writers claim that it is from aquila, an eagle, seeing a likeness to the talons of an eagle in the curved nectaries.