The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

What's Blooming? Eastern Red Columbine

Posted by
Ginger Laurits
| June 30, 2017 | Filed under: Observations
An eastern chipmunk sits above a stand of red columbine.

An eastern chipmunk keeps watch from above the red columbine in our native plant border.

Eastern red columbine boldly advertises itself with bright red flowers that dance like ballerinas in a light breeze and attract hummingbirds, which are its main pollinators. The flower petals form long tubes, called spurs, that contain an abundance of nectar at their tips. Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and moths savor the nectar and pollinate the flowers. (I am also attracted to this plant, but unfortunately am not equipped with the mouthparts to sip the sweet nectar.)

Columbine provides more than nectar; insects dine on its leaves and you can, too, before they become fibrous. The flowers make a pretty, edible garnish when added to salads.

After bloom, petals fall, leaving green tube-shaped seed pods that turn brown as they mature.  You’ll know the pods are ready when you hear the seeds rattling in a breeze.

So why talk about columbine after it’s bloomed? Because it’s seed-collecting time! Rattle a flower stalk, turn it upside down to gather seeds, and spread them far and wide. Imagine hill and dale covered with these lovely flowers. And, oh! Imagine the hummingbirds!

In Your Garden

Eastern red columbine is a great plant for the natural shade garden. It is easy to grow; just collect dry seeds and sprinkle them wherever you like, in part sun or dappled shade. The plant may come up where you sprinkled, but more likely it will surprise you by popping up wherever it likes, often in a dry, gravelly area or from a crevice in a rock wall. The plant is short-lived, often disappearing after 2 or 3 years, but it self-seeds readily.

Columbine does well planted in an area with few plants nearby. As its neighbors begin to grow, they will outcompete the columbine, which will disappear from the initial planting area but show up in other parts of your yard.

The Name

Aquilegia canadensis derives its names from Latin: aquila (eagle) refers to the flower's five spurs that resemble an eagle’s talon, and colomba (dove) imagines the flower’s likeness to a cluster of five doves.

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