Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bowling for Aquilegia

Species name: Aquilegia sp. (probably Aquilegia vulgaris)

Common name: Columbine (probably Common Columbine, European Columbine)

Location: Ontario

As you can probably tell by the proximity of the fence in the second picture (and the blurred plant in the background), this is not a species of plant in my back yard. I have to graciously thank my neighbours by allowing me to use their flowers as models (although they don't know it yet) and letting me steal flowers through the fence with elaborate stick mechanisms!

I honestly have no idea which species of Columbine this is. I'm guessing it's probably the common columbine since its English name is probably "common" for a reason. The common columbine has been selected for flower colour through hybridization by humans over many generations, so there are now cultivars with many different colours of flowers even though the "natural" colour of this flower is dark purple. Since I don't truly know which species this is, I can't also comment on the "nativeness" of this plant for certain, but since there are more species native to Asia and Europe than there are North America (but there are a few!), I'm going to pick the bigger group and go with non-native. There are about 65 species of columbines in the genus Aquilegia, and almost all of them are critically endangered (with the exception of the few species used for ornamental purposes; even some of those are endangered in their native habitat). We have 3 species that are native to Canada, and another 3 are native to the United States. One of these three American species is endemic to Colorado, where it only exists in one small pocket of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and is protected under federal law. Since it's also the state flower of Colorado, I wouldn't suggest taking your chances with American law enforcement and picking any flowers if you happen to stumble across them!

There is quite a bit of folklore associated with this plant because of the elaborate spurred flowers that are produced. At one point, even the Raelians (remember them?! If not, you can read about their philosophy HERE) believed that these flowers were too unusual to be a product of evolution and chance, and must have been created by their extraterrestrial God. The ancient Romans believed the columbine flowers to be the flower of Venus, and if you carried around a bouquet of columbines you would arouse the affection of a loved one. Going along with that, it was also used as an herbal medicine to relieve the pain of childbirth. In modern times, some herbalists use the rhizomes in a tea-like beverage as a diuretic or an astrigent; I would recommend you stay away from experimenting with this plant since some species can be a diuretic via kidney disintegration as opposed to increased kidney flow--and I don't think that's the effect you'd be going for!