Columbines Bring Out Birds and Bees
By Maria Price
Aquilegia canadensis or wild columbine is a lovely native plant that blooms in mid-spring. It grows in zones 3 to 9 in well-drained soil in partial shade to sun. It grows 10- to 24-inches tall, with numerous one-and-a-half-inch long nodding, pale orange-red and yellow flowers. The fernlike foliage is dissected and bluish-green. Thomas Jefferson admired this plant when he grew it at Monticello.
Wild columbine will attract the early arriving hummingbirds as the flower’s nectar provides an important source of energy for them when few other plants are in flower.
Wild columbine is the larval host plant to the columbine duskywing butterfly and the columbine borer moth. Bumblebee queens and workers forage for nectar on wild columbine by either grasping onto the stamens and forcing their head into the spur or crawling up the stamens and pushing their head and thorax into the spur. Sweat bees climb up the flowers to feed on nectar. Long-tongued bumblebees or hummingbirds are required for pollination.
This native plant is very adaptable, growing in sunny, dry, rocky terrain, partly shaded woodlands and poor gravelly soils. The plants reseed easily and the seedlings that form in late spring and early summer can be moved to other parts of the garden as soon as they can be handled.
Columbine comes in many subtle colors, ranging from deep rose to light pink. ‘Corbett’ grows only 1 to 1½ feet tall and produces dozens of light-yellow flowers. It was discovered by two brothers, Andrew and Larry Clemens in the 1960s near the town of Corbett, Md. They shared the seeds and plants with Richard Simon, an outstanding nurseryman and owner of Bluemont Nurseries in Monkton, Md. ‘Little Lanterns’ is a dwarf form of the species.
Plants can be afflicted with leaf-mining insects tunneling through the leaves in late spring. Clean up the debris around the plants in the fall to reduce subsequent populations.