Friday, May 20, 2011

FIVE FLAMING DOVES


"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.
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18 comments:

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

amazing pictures. Quite intense. And I never heard of these Columbines about which you so informatively and eloquently write. I learn so much form you, always. Thanks my friend.
Love Gail
peace.....

Mila said...

Your post makes me want to hop on a plane and seek out columbines. I like to see them in the night glowing as you said.

I especially enjoyed learning about their uses during childbirth and how past warriors believe that it gives them strength and courage.

Very well written. Thank you.

ellen abbott said...

I have some of those but they haven't bloomed. yet, I hope. They bloomed last year.

Kelly said...

I loved this post, Grizz...the photos and your text. Your title is perfect. I haven't found any down the river by me. I just got out of work early and am heading to the woods now. Maybe I'll get lucky and find a batch!

The Weaver of Grass said...

These are exquisite. I have been away and during that time colubines have taken over my front garden! From a distance they all look the same but close to there are so many different colours - nothing quite as startling as yours though.

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Yesterday was really dark (wet, too, occasionally) which, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, is a really prime time to make great flower photos because the light is shadowless and colors really tend to saturate. That was one of the reasons why I decided to go on a ramble in the first place. However, this is exactly how they looked—bright and blazing amid the gloom.

I'll bet you have Columbine in your area. It's not uncommon, though is often unnoticed. The blooms are about 2 inches overall.

Grizz………… said...

Mila…

Thank you. I've always enjoyed the folklore, quaint names, and old herbal uses of plants and generally try and include some of it in my posts. I'm glad you liked the piece.

Grizz………… said...

Ellen…

From what I know, Columbine—this wild native variety, anyway—is pretty particular about growing condition, and doesn't transplant well. It's best started by planting established plants from a nursery. Hope your are just slow this year.

Grizz………… said...

Kelly…

Thank you. I liked the title, too—but here's how dumb I was…I forgot my last post also used the noun "flame" in its title. Not very creative, huh?

Hope your Little Miami afternoon paid off—which I sure it did, even if you didn't find Columbines in bloom. But I've seen them in that area, I'm sure, when biking the trail or fishing. Look around any ledges or rocky, wooded slopes. And "batch" is less likely than two or three (and often just one!) plants here and there.

Grizz………… said...

Weaver…

I'll bet they're really lovely. I'm thinking about putting some in my cottage garden, providing I can find them locally. The ones in the photos, however, are wild natives; in the western half of the U.S. their native blue Columbines are blue.

Robin said...

You've outdone yourself with the photos, Grizz. Can't imagine what you'ld come up with if you had a new camera... ")

Thanks for the lesson.... dove, huh? And I just learned that 'nature' comes from the latin, 'to be born'. (How did I not know that?)

We have Columbine in so many colors at the BBHS, but I love your woodland version... so ephemeral....

Bonnie said...

Lovely. They really do look like a group of doves having a meeting. So nice to read of the history and uses of the plant.

KGMom said...

Oh such lovely photos. And your post is just a trove of information.
I love most chasing down these little rabbit paths of bits of information.
Thanks for a good morning read.

Grizz………… said...

Robin…

Thank you. And to answer your new camera question…it wouldn't help with any creativity on my part (alas, I gots only whatever artistic talent and eye I gots!) but simply give me more pixels, which would translate into sharper, crisper, more detailed images, and/or the ability to crop more and still retain a usable image. (In other words, instead of having to stalk to within 50 feet of a great blue heron, I would only have to get within 100 feet, and subsequently crop—enlarge—the image more and still have the same detail in the photo. Quite a bonus when I'm trying to sneak this decrepit old carcass through the puckerbrush.) Not to mention my Nikon is 8-9 years old, ancient by digital camera standards, and has taken more than 200,000 images, which means the shutter assembly is on its last legs.

Yup, "nature" is rooted in the Latin to "be born." Nowadays, though the professional educators have tried to steal the term and make it a degreed title, a "naturalist" is simply one who, first, studies nature or the natural as opposed to the supernatural; and in the case which I expect applies to most of us, an amateur observer or student (not a professional) of natural history, or a person who aims at close representation of nature or reality in art—artistic naturalism. You do not need a degree of any sort to be a bona fide naturalist; being a naturalist is about attitude, interest, and representation, with a long provenance of amateurs. ("Amateur," of course, comes from the Latin for lover; one who loves something, including nature.)

In the eastern U.S., this is our single native species of Columbine; western states have a blue version. Most of what's sold in garden centers are European Columbines in various colors. Their flowers are a bit wider and the stamens don't protrude from the bloom.

Grizz………… said...

Bonnie…

They do, indeed—which is why I love knowing the various alternate names for things, since they're not only quaint but descriptive. In this case, I expect meetinghouse refers to a handful of congregants in a church or "meetinghouse." That would have been the way most of the old folks employed the term. But your linking the two—i.e., a meeting of doves—makes perfectly good sense as well.

Grizz………… said...

KGMom…

Thank you! Being someone's "good morning read" is as good a compliment as any writer should ever desire.

As you might suspect, I share your love of chasing down informational "rabbit paths," which is why I can end up spending two hours on a single word or detail in a paragraph. The Internet is either a blessing or curse in this respect, though I used do the same thing in libraries…just didn't have a window to occasionally glance out, or a cup of coffee at the ready—and trotting to and fro through the stacks wasn't all that fun sometimes.

Kelly said...

...thanks, Grizz, for the tip on where to find them. I didn't have luck, though, but it was a great afternoon anyway...warm, sunny...and lots of birds!

Grizz………… said...

Kelly…

I know it sounds like something Yogi Berra would say, but in my experience, Columbines are typically located wherever you find 'em. I see by your post you did find some watchdog chickadees, though!