"Columbine," wrote naturalist John Burroughs, "is at all times and in all places one of the most exquisitely beautiful flowers." And so it is, with flaming, long-spurred blooms of red-orange with yellow centers and protruding yellow stamens, and which glow in dim woodlands like a struck match.
Columbines are members of the buttercup family. Their name comes from colomba, Latin for "dove," the same root from which we get "Columbia." Since Biblical times, and the story of Noah and the ark, doves have been considered symbols of peace. A circle of doves heads was once a popular design painted on serving plates and other objects. You'll sometimes hear Columbines "Five Doves," perhaps because the nodding spurs somewhat resemble five tiny birds perched in a huddle of golden sepals.
This "heads in a circle" of the rounded-top, extended spurs doubtless inspired another picturesque name I've occasionally heard older country folks employ—"Meetinghouses." Others call them "Rock Bells," because Columbines thrive in rocky woodlands and around limestone ledges. Occasionally you hear it mistakenly called "Honeysuckle," though you can bite off the tips of the tubes and suck out the drop of sweet nectar inside.
|Click to enlarge, and you'll see a tiny bee sipping nectar |
under the bloom's yellow-tipped "bell" of the bloom.
Hummingbirds are also prime pollinators for this plant.
An ancient legend that says every spring, lions eat Columbine to give them strength. For that reason, before going into battle, some warriors used to rub their hands with Columbine to strengthen their courage.
In the language of flowers, pretty as they are, giving someone—woman or man—Columbines is tantamount to insult and bad luck, since they're considered a symbol of either cuckoldry or a deserted lover. Probably not your desired message unless the recipient happens to be a politician.
Among the old herbalists, Columbine seeds boiled in wine, was employed to speed and ease delivery in childbirth. It's interesting to note that long before it was first collected and sent back to Europe by John Tradescant in the early 1600s, the American Indians were using the plant for the same thing.
Yesterday, in spite of dark skies and intermittent sprinkles, I spent much of the afternoon in the woods. I found the Columbines in these photos growing on a rocky bank above the river a short distance upstream from the cottage.