AQUILEGIA – When a friend from Colorado, U.S.A. recently visited family and friends in Adelaide, South Australia, she kindly gave me a magnet picturing the Colorado Columbine. Aquilegias sit high on my list of favourite flowers and I have them growing in my front garden plot. I first planted them in 2005 after my middle daughter had inserted a seed packet into my Christmas bon-bon. On moving to my present home I planted seed gathered from my Past Garden and they flourish to this day. The magnet gift has prompted me to research this captivating flower.
Aquilegia (common names: Granny’s Bonnet or Columbine) is a genus of plants found in the wild in meadows, woodlands, and at higher altitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The COLORADO BLUE COLUMBINE is the official State flower of Colorado and is native to the Rocky Mountains.
The white and lavender Rocky Mountain Columbine was designated the official State Flower of Colorado in 1899 after winning the vote of Colorado’s school children. Discovered in 1820 on Pike’s Peak by mountain climber Edwin James (Botanist), the Rocky Mountain Columbine (Columbine Aquilegia coerulea) is a lovely flower with a rich aroma attracting bees, hummingbirds and butterflies to its nectar. The white and lavender Columbine has blue-violet petals and spurs, a white cup and yellow centre. Blue is a symbol of the sky, white represents snow, and yellow symbolizes Colorado’s gold mining history. The original Colorado State Song is Where the Columbines Grow – ‘Written and composed by A.J. Fynn, Where the Columbines Grow was adopted on May 8, 1915 as the official State Song of Colorado by an act of the General Assembly. While travelling by horse and wagon to visit Indian tribes in the San Luis Valley in 1896, Fynn received inspiration to pen the song after he came across a Colorado Mountain meadow blanketed with Columbine flowers. He dedicated the song to the Colorado pioneers’. ( Some Botanists have recorded “Coerulea” and others “Caerulea”, but they are apparently one and the same).
The genus name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for “eagle”(aquila), referring to the claw-like spurs at the base of the flower petals. The common name Columbine comes from the Latin for “dove”(columbus), due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together. It seems strange that two birds as different as the eagle and the dove should both give their name to the same flower – the Aquilegia, or Columbine. The petals are supposed to resemble the outspread wings of these birds, and the spurs their arched necks and heads. Whichever name is used, they offer some of the most garden-worthy and decorative of plants. The leaves are divided into small fan-shaped sections, often resembling maidenhair fern fronds in shape with the flowering stems reaching above the foliage carrying bell-shaped nodding flowers. The elegant lacy fern-like leaves are an unusual blue-green colour and the foliage starts growing in early Spring, very much at home in a cottage style garden. Aquilegias are hardy herbaceous perennial plants. They are not necessarily difficult to maintain – many have a remarkable tolerance. In a hot, dry climate they thrive best in rich, moist, well-drained soil in partial shade while in a cooler area they are more sun-tolerant.
Reginald John Farrer (1880-1920) was a traveller and plant collector. He described Aquilegia viridi-flora as ‘a glaucous pale-jade colour with fluff of golden stamens standing out. I put my nose to the flower – the columbine was emanating its message – a charm of scent as consciously coquettish and elusive as the charm of its restrained beauty’.