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Columbine

Aquilegia vulgaris

  • Name also: Common Columbine, European Columbine, Granny’s Nightcap
  • Family: Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock short, erect.
  • Height: 30–80 cm (12–32 in.). Stem sparsely hairy.
  • Flower: Perianth regular (actinomorphic), blue (sometimes purple or light red, white or flecked), 3–5.5 cm (1.2–2.2 in.) wide. Petals 5, spurred, spur with spiral tip, 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in.) long. Sepals 5, colourful like petals. Stamens many. Gynoecium separate, pistils 5. Flowers solitary or several together, pendant.
  • Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves long-stalked. Blade 2 times with 3 leaflets. Secondary leaflets lobed, round-based, round-toothed, green on top and glabrous, bluish green and hairy underside.
  • Fruit: Bristle-tipped, 1.5–2.5 cm (0.6–1 in.) long follicle, 5 together.
  • Habitat: Ornamental, often an escape in yards, roadsides and forest margins close to habitation, stream and ditch banks. Possibly also native in broad-leaved forests.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Columbine is one of Finland’s more traditional ornamental plants: it would be difficult to find many old gardens in which it doesn’t grow. Columbines were initially most likely ornamentals in monastery gardens, manor houses and parsonages –it became a croft and cottage flower sometime in the 19th century when the common people began to plant ornamental flowers around their homes. There was a custom that lasted until a few decades ago to exchange and give perennials and useful plants as gifts when people went visiting. In this way many native plants became more common and spread from yard to yard.

Columbine grows in the wild in light-filled broad-leaved forests, stream banks and hedgerows. It thrives so well in the wild in some places in Finland that it would be easy to assume that it is native. Its main habitat stretches to Aunus Karelia and the Baltic, and it still grows on the shores of Lake Ladoga, so the easternmost plants in Kitee and Uukuniemi could be pioneers in that area. Most of the wild columbines in Finland are in fact escapes from cultivation: the species can survive in abandoned gardens and around old inhabited areas long after the buildings have collapsed. Columbine can turn up in the most extraordinary places due to its abundant seed production.

Columbine flowers look like five long-necked birds sitting close together with twisted beaks, wings and tail feathers. This image is possibly behind the plant’s scientific name, which comes from the Greek word aquilo, meaning eagle. Columbine flowers have nectar at the bottom of a long spur which can only be accessed by insects that have a long proboscis, such as bumblebees and butterflies. The plants usually have blue flowers, but cultivated varieties can be different shades of white, pink, purple and almost black.

Other species from the same family
Trees and bushes from the same family

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