Thursday, May 14, 2015

Columbine Collage

I do not recall ever blogging about my columbines, my beautiful beloved columbines, but I won't miss the opportunity now as they bloom out their season.  Some of you who are familiar with their favored habitat may even be surprised that they survive here in the annual Kansas drought and heat, but what they lack in fortitude, they seem to make up with proliferation.  In fact, I think they self-seed better on bare dry ground then they do in mulched and shady areas.  Wherever they seed, I smile and think about blue skies and happy children.

I assume my columbines are some form of Aquilegia vulgaris, but I've had a number of cultivars in my garden over the years and the entire Aquilegia clan is notoriously self-fertilizing.  The dark blue columbines at left, for instance, might have had some genetic influence from a named double-flowered cultivar, 'Black Barrow', that I once had.  Columbines are no trouble at all, however.  They cheerfully self-seed around my northern exposure, in the partially shaded beds on the north side of the house, and I simply weed out the colors that I don't like and root out the clumps that spring up in the wrong locations.  I'm partial to whites and blues, as you can see, and the occasional wine-purple flower is also allowed to grow uninhibited.  But it is the blues, the rare bright-sky-blue flowers, that I favor the most.

I do have an occasional maintenance issue with "Granny's Bonnet", as these are sometimes called.  Here on the prairie, they often become infested with "columbine leafminers" (Phytomyza sp.), a fly larvae that lives and lays eggs in the leaves, leaving unsightly trails behind as they migrate and feed.  The  Internet provides scant useful advice regarding control of these pests, with one prominent page suggesting only to ignore them or to pick off diseased leaves.  If I followed the latter advice, I'd only be left with a bunch of completely defoliated columbines by early June.  Similarly, I ignore written suggestions to cut them to the ground and start over.  Older sources suggest the use of DDT, a chemical that likely would do the job, but which I suspect is a bit difficult to obtain these days.   Occasionally, I've resorted to spraying with less lethal insecticides or even to tossing down some of the commercial fertilizer which contains systemic insecticide, all in an effort to keep the leaves unblemished and healthy.  Other years, as some of these photos this year demonstrate, I let the leafminers alone to do what leafminers must do.

Columbine folklore is rife with tales of love, attraction, and betrayal.  Columbines were held to be sacred to Venus, but were often associated with folly and cuckoldry.  At one time, giving a woman a bouquet of columbines was an insult since they were only presented to women suspected of loose morals.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush, however, thinks they are fabulous little flowers and takes no umbrage to my growing them near our main entrance,

Aquilegia belongs to the Ranunculus family and many sources say the entire plant is poisonous, including the seeds.  Of course, the skeptical gardening professor scoffs at the warnings about its toxicity, warnings that seem to mirror those of many, many other plants, and I wonder if it actually toxic at all, particularly when Wikipedia tells me that a dose of 3000 mg/kg is not fatal in mice.  

While skeptical, however, I'm not an idiot and I most assuredly won't use myself as a test subject.  It is said that Native American men crushed the seeds and rubbed them into their hands because the scent was so pleasing it was thought to attract a mate.  Perhaps Mrs. ProfessorRoush would appreciate the gift of a new fragrant soap if she believed it would rekindle the marital fires?

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