Wild Flower Gardening with the Common Columbine
Wild flower gardening can be interesting in that some flowers we now know as wild flowers may indeed be flowers that were brought to the USA from other places. Such is the case with the Common Garden, or European, Columbine. Its scientific name is Aquilegia vulgaris. Although our compendium notes show it as a member of the Crowfoot family, you may better know it as a member of the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. The columbine usually grows from 10 to 15 inches tall.
EUROPEAN or COMMON GARDEN COLUMBINE
(Aquilegia vulgaris) Crowfoot family
Flowers – Showy, blue, purple, or white, 1 1/2 to 2 in. broad, or about as broad as long; spurs stout and strongly incurved. General characteristics of plant resembling wild columbine.
Preferred Habitat – Escaped from gardens to woods and fields in Eastern and Middle States. Native of Europe.
Flowering Season – May-July.
A heavier, less graceful flower than either the wild red and yellow columbine or the exquisite, long-spurred, blue and white species (A. coerulea) of the Rocky Mountain region; nevertheless this European immigrant, now making itself at home here, is a charming addition to our flora. How are insects to reach the well of nectar secreted in the tip of its incurved, hooked spur? Certain of the long-lipped bees, large bumblebees, whose tongues have developed as rapidly as the flower, are able to drain it. Hummingbirds, partial to red flowers, fertilize the wild columbine, but let this one alone. Muller watched a female bumblebee making several vain attempts to sip this blue one. Soon the brilliant idea of biting a hole through each spur flashed through her little brain, and the first experiment proving delightfully successful, she proceeded to bite holes through other flowers without first trying to suck them. Apparently she satisfied her feminine conscience with the reflection that the flower which made dining so difficult for its benefactors deserved no better treatment.
You can find this wildflower in the following states: Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Two other common names for this wild flower are European crowfoot and granny’s-bonnet. Common names of flowers can be so colorful which can make it fun when talking about your flower gardening.
Additionally, there is some research going on with this wildflower that may one day provide us with new medicines or who knows what. If you are very interested, you can do a search in PubMed for the publications on research being done on Aquilegia vulgaris. Two titles, just to give you a hint, are: Antimicrobial activity of isocytisoside and extracts of Aquilegia vulgaris L. Lett Appl Microbiol. 2004;39(1):93-7 and Protective effect of Aquilegia vulgaris (L.) on APAP-induced oxidative stress in rats.. No, I didn’t try to read even the abstracts but the titles alone give you an indication of the research being done.
In the meantime, you may just wish to enjoy the beauty of this member of the columbine group. This columbine wildflower could be a great addition to your wild flower garden if you have an area of light to moderate shade with rich, well-draining soil. This is what it prefers but it will tolerate full sun and many types of soil except very heavy ones that don’t drain well. As with many flowers, remove the flowers after blooming to encourage more flowers. In the summer after all blooming is done and the leaves start to decline, you can cut it down to the ground for a more attractive appearance in your wild flower garden.