In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     There are hundreds of hummingbird feeders in my garden.  Just in time to welcome the jewel-tone birds as they return from their sojourn in the south, the native columbines have burst into bloom.  The bright red and yellow flowers are signals to the hummers and bees that a nectar feast is at hand.  Pollinators seem to prefer this natural nectar to the sugar water
     Scientifically known as Aqilegia Canadensis, this perennial wildflower may be found growing in full sun to partial shade.  The Latin name comes from the Latin word Aquila, which means eagle.  The spurs on the blooms really do resemble the talons of eagles.   The common name columbine is derived from the Latin word for doves, and the five white tubes on the flowers must have once reminded someone of doves.  Another common name for the flower is granny’s bonnets and, with a little imagination, one can see how that name came to be.  Whatever you call them, they are rich sources of nectar for the hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators.  
     The flowers now in bloom are the old perennials.  They send up antler-like stems on which a plant bears many blooms.  With dead-heading, a plant may continue blooming for up to six weeks.  However, here at Sandhill Gardens, we can expect to have columbines in bloom for much longer than that.  The plants have been allowed to self-sow for many years and the plants that were sown from last year’s seeds will be a little slower coming into bloom.  They generally are shorter and the blooms are smaller and less-numerous.
     You may introduce columbines into your landscape by planting transplants or by sowing seeds.  This may be done at almost any time.  Seeds sown now will produce basal leaves within a few weeks, but will not bloom for a while, if they bloom at all this first year.  Transplants should bloom this year and may be planted at any time.  Be sure to keep new transplants watered well.  Beyond that, the plants really require little care.  However, I caution if you are one who likes a neat, orderly garden, the native columbine is probably not the plant for you.  If you allow the plant to form seed, you will likely have plants sprouting all over the place.  The tiny seeds burst out from the seed pods whenever the plants are moved by the wind or by being touched.
     However, if you want columbines that behave themselves, you may want to go to the garden center in search of some hybrids.  Most of the hybrids involve crossing Aquilegia Canadensis with Aquilegia vulgaris, which is native to Europe.  These hybrids come in many colors and the blooms are often double.  Most are also more compact, allowing them to be planted in smaller spaces.
     If you do want to grow the natives, finding plants or seeds is the challenge.   You will likely have to go to a native plant nursery to find plants.  You may order seeds from one of the native plant catalogues or websites.  I will have some plants available this Saturday, May 14, at the Hoosier Hillsides Master Gardeners annual plant sale.  Master Gardeners will be set up from 8 AM until 1 PM in the lot by the stoplight in Orleans.  There will be plants of all kinds, including some vegetable transplants, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.  Come early for the best selection.  I hope to see many of you there.


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