Common Name: Columbine
Scientific Name: Aquilegia species
Family: Ranunculaceae (this family contains Anemone, Buttercup, Clematis, Delphinium, Goldenseal, Nigella, and more)
- Eastern Red/Canadian/Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
- Common Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)
Many ornamental gardeners know the Columbine is great at attracting bees and hummingbirds, but most people don’t realize the flowers and leaves are edible. I also believe that research will show this plant to be a Dynamic Accumulator as well. This wildflower should be considered by anyone who wants to add a splash of functional beauty to their land or Forest Garden.
Native and widespread in the northern hemisphere, there are about 70 species of Columbines found in meadows and woodlands, often at higher altitudes. These plants were used medicinally in the past but fell out of favor. Now they are most widely known as ornamentals and wildflowers.
- The genus name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because the shape of the flower petals, which are said to resemble an eagle’s claw.
- The common name “columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove”, due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.
- Columbine seed, when dried and crushed, has been used to kill parasites on the outside of the body (e.g. lice)
USING THIS PLANT
- Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world due to its beautiful flowers
- Edible Leaves – Use when young, before they become fibrous. Raw or cooked; A. vulgaris is reported to have a mild flavor.
- Edible Flowers – reportedly can be used as a salad garnish. A. vulgaris is reported to have a very good flavor with a touch of sweetness. Flowers can also be used to make a tea.
- Excellent general insect (especially bees) nectar plant
- Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the seeds, especially birds.
- Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that attracts Hummingbirds (esp A. canadensis)
- Dynamic Accumulator Species – I can find no evidence of this, but considering it has a taproot and is fairly short-lived, it likely mines deep minerals which are deposited onto the soil as the plants die back. A good area of research!
Yield: Variable, older plants have larger bulbs. Improved varieties also have larger bulbs.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvest Spring through early Fall (depending on the location); just pick the non-fibrous young leaves. Avoid any leaves showing mildew. Flowers can be picked whenever present.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.
Plant Type: Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of species and varieties available
Flowering: Spring through mid-Summer (April – July)
Short-lived. Many species/varieties only live 2-3 years. But considering that these plants have the ability to self-seed rather easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Shade: Tolerates moderate to deep shade depending on the species
Moisture: Medium moisture soils.
pH: 5.1-8.5 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)
Special Considerations for Growing:
Reportedly has an allelopathic effect (inhibits growth) on nearby plants, especially legumes.
Typically from seed. Self-seeds on a fairly regular basis, some species more than others. Some reports state that no stratification is needed, while other claim it is needed. Do to gardeners having success without stratification, I think it is likely that it is not needed. The reason the seeds don’t germinate until the following Spring may be due to another factor (ground temperature, day length, etc.?). Can divide in early Spring.
- Aquilegia produce cardiogenic (heart) toxins in their seeds and roots; can also cause significant gastroenteritis (stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea). Heat and drying (dehydration) destroys these toxins.
- May attract red spider mites which can then move to nearby crops; consider avoiding plantings in areas near plants susceptible to red spider mites
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