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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris

This photo shows rather nicely why Aquilegia species are commonly known as columbines. The name columbine comes from columba, the Latin word for dove, and it doesn’t take too much imagination to see a circle of five elegant, long-necked doves here, heads bowed, wings outstretched. Aquilegia vulgaris has been grown in gardens since the 13th. century, when it first appears in illuminated manuscripts, and most Aquilegia species are easy to cultivate. Columbines are plants that you usually only need to introduce into a garden once because they set large numbers of seed that germinate freely, with self-sown seedlings appearing all over the garden. There are at least seventy species of Aquilegia, including Britain’s native Aquilegia vulgaris, and when grown together most can form hybrids, producing a bewildering range of horticultural hybrid varieties of uncertain parentage that go under the general name of Aquilegia x hybrida. Long-spurred hybrids are derived from crosses with A. caerulea , introduced into British gardens from the Rocky Mountains in the 1860s, and hybrids with A. chrysantha from Arizona have widened the range of colours available. If you want to grow the true species, most of which are short-lived perennials, you need to take positive steps to prevent cross pollination, otherwise you end up with a garden full of hybrid seedlings.