Columbine (Aquilegia): A Seasonal Look

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Or shooting stars?

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Neighbors have described the columbines in my gardens in both ways.  Me?  I think they’re simply beautiful and I anticipate and appreciate the showy and unusual blooms. Harbingers of spring, the Columbines I grow and which are commonly available in nurseries and which are native to Texas are the Golden or Yellow ColumbineAquilegia chrysantha, and Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana,IMGP6525.new

and the smaller, grayer-leafed, Wild Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.

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There are actually a number of Columbine species native to Texas and you can access that information by going to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s plant database on Aquilegiathe database also links to information on plants of the Aquilegia genus throughout North America.  This “A Seasonal Look” installment profiles my experiences with the yellow and the Wild Red columbines, both of which I purchased years ago. I actually don’t remember which of the yellow that I bought, but what grows now are likely descendants of Yellow/Golden or Hinckley’s columbine cultivars, which comprise the bulk of Columbines sold in Texas.  Like many wildflowers, Columbines readily hybridize and I imagine the nursery trade has tweaked Columbine production so that the more successful yellows are produced. Over the years, the two variants (yellow and red) in my gardens have hybridized to form new combinations of red/yellow that now happily inhabit my gardens.

IMGP6888.newFor clarity,  hybridize is cross breeding between two things, like plants, and cultivar is a hybrid created by selective breeding.  Hybridization occurs naturally and is common in wildflowers and the nursery trade routinely cultivates plants for sale.

Columbines, Aquilegia, are generally cool season plants.  There are many kinds of Columbines and even in Texas, nurseries will sell the exotic blue, purple, deep pink and red varieties, but those serve as annuals because of our blisteringly hot summers. What will survive are the natives and their hybrid/cultivars varieties–they are year-round perennials, though as a general rule, not long-lived perennials.

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Here in Central Texas, the blooming begins in early March.

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Columbines are not phased by late season freezes; I’ve witnessed ice on Columbines one day and open blooms a day or two later.   The prime blooming period is March through May, but can extend into June, depending on the onset of summer heat and the amount of rainfall.  In hot/dry years, Columbines peak in early April and are done by mid-May.  In more normal years, with rainfall and extended spring temperatures, they bloom and set seed into the summer months. In my gardens, Columbines usually live 5 years or less, though I have a couple that are older than that.

In spring, Columbines reach the pinnacle of their beauty.

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This one is a “Hinckley’s” Columbine,

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A few years back I wanted to add another yellow  and purchased it from a reliable local nursery, to ensure continuation of the pure yellow in my gardens.

This one is A. canadensis–Wild Red Columbine.

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I adore the natural hybrids that have developed in my gardens which are produced from the co-mingling between A. chrysantha and the A. canadensis.  Thanks pollinators! The petals on these hybrids are usually yellow with blushes of red to pink on the sepals and the spurs.

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The flowers are pollinated by bees, butterflies, and moths and I’ve seen hummingbirds visit mine.The nectar spurs are a characteristic feature of all Columbine species.The long nectar spurs evolved to meet the needs of pollinators like hummingbirds and hawkmoths and probably little bees like this one, too.IMGP7143.new

Several Texas Columbine species are the host plant for the Columbine Duskywing, Erynnis lucilius.

During the blooming bonanza, I deadhead my Columbines to prolong their flowering.  I prune back the seedheads,

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…as they appear.

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As the spring Columbine show progresses, I also let some seeds develop to ensure replacement plants. Columbine seeds are black and tiny.

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I pick off the mature pods and sprinkle the seeds in the garden for future germination. I’m not at all scientific about my process–as I’ve stated, I love surprise combinations, and with soil contact, moisture, and future chilly winter conditions, the seeds will eventually create replacements for the mother plants.  I’m very happy to accept whatever nature provides: more of the pure yellow,

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…or the smaller red/yellow,

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Usually there are so many seedheads, that it’s quite a chore for me to keep up with deadheading and I have only so much patience and time for that. By early May, I’m ready to let them all seed out, at will.  The mother plants begin looking leggy,

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…with blooms and seed pods atop the slender stalks, lush foliage anchoring below. Even with conscientious deadheading, Columbines will cease blooming with the onslaught of summer’s heat, usually sometime in June.  They begin looking a worn–and so would you, if you’d been non-stop, dead-drop gorgeous for months!

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Summer is the time for Texas Columbines to rest.  Columbines are at their tallest and fullest during  spring–individual plants grow as much as 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, including flower stalks. But as summer wears on and the bloom stalks dry and are pruned, the Columbines will shrink in size and more than likely, experience some foliage die-back.  During the summer months, wilted and discolored foliage is not unusual.P1050290_cropped_3283x2251..new

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It’s no problem to prune the summer-damaged foliage at that point.  Older foliage is yellow-green and by September, brown, or with brown tips.The newer leaves are fresh and blue-green and emerge from the roots.  P1070276.new

Don’t overwater when you see the seemingly droopy Columbine–it is a waterwise plant and doesn’t need more than once per week irrigation–at most!  In fact, this is when many people kill their Columbines–by over watering during dormancy.  Continue reminding yourself  that Columbines are cool season plants:  they are dormant during summer and regain luster in cooler seasons.

As the heat of summer subsides and you’ve tidied your little Columbine shrubs,

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…you can sit back during the fall and winter and watch them flush out again in preparation for their magnificent blooming bust.

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It’s nice to interplant Columbine with cheery, heat-loving perennials to weather summer doldrums. Turk’s Cap Malvaviscus arboreus, Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis, Tropical Sage, Salvia coccinea, Lantana, or plants like the Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, beloware all good choices.  Many perennials bloom well in late summer and early fall when the Columbines are not looking their best.IMGP1440.new

When the Columbines look peeky, other things will beautify your gardens.

Sometimes, the entire plant will die back during summer. If the plant is young, it will pop back with the cooler, shorter days and autumn rains, but with older plants, return is tricky and not guaranteed. That’s one reason to keep a few Columbine seedlings around: you never quite know when you might want to replace a deceased plant, to share with a fellow gardener, or to transplant Columbines to new spots in your garden.

Columbines also prefer shade or part shade–the blazing Texas sun is a bit too much for this perennial, but it’s an excellent choice for enlivening  a dark part of the garden. Columbines survive hot Texas summers well, provided they’re planted in shade.

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In general, Columbines aren’t too picky about soil type, though they do want good drainage.  My garden soil is heavy and clayey, yet they perform well.  If there is a period of heavy rain, especially in late summer/early fall when the Columbines are dormant, I pull mulch away from the base of the plants (assuming I remember to do so), otherwise they can get soggy and rot.  Some Columbines are considered moderately deer resistant, though typical with so many “deer-resistant” plants, munch ability depends on location and just how hungry the deer are.

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Columbines are available by seed and in most Texas nurseries in varying sized containers.  They are a valuable shade-tolerant perennial in the Texas garden with stunning spring blooms and lovely evergreen fall and winter foliage.  The native Columbine bloom pretty yellow and yellow/red flowers and are not only attractive to gardeners and their neighbors, but are valuable wildlife plants.

Make a place in your garden for dancing fairies and carve out a viewing spot for shooting stars–you won’t regret it!

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Foliage Follow-up, August 2014

Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-up, the monthly fanfare of foliage in the garden. As much as I love flowers, a plant’s foliage is often a deal-breaker when choosing for my gardens.  Especially in August when Austin blooms are a little scarce, the plant parts that are not flowers can lend beauty and definition to a garden space.

While not exactly foliage, seed heads certainly aren’t  blooms either.  Ex-flowers, I guess, but I’m including them because in mid-to-late summer, seed pods produced by former blooms impart interest to perennial gardens.  This group of seed heads of the Gulf Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis, are just about to POP open and spread their glory!

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The Gulf Penstemon is a lovely lavender spring-blooming perennial.   I keep the seed heads as long as possible to give the seeds time to develop for propagation of new specimens for this short-lived perennial and also because I find them attractive.

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Little, tawny turban-hats, the hard shell will burst open, spreading the seeds to nearby areas.  Or, the gardener (that’s me, folks) can prune the stems, crack open those turbans, shake out the seeds and in doing so, appear to evoke some pagan ritual while waving the stalks over the gardens.  I wonder what the neighbors think?

The Hill Country Penstemon, Penstemon triflorus, sports a larger, darker turban-capped seed head.

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This year marks the latest I’ve ever left these seed pods on their bloom spikes. Usually, this plant topples over by early summer, I lose patience with the mess and cut it to the ground.

This seed pod of the RetamaParkinsonia aculeata, hangs from the tree’s slender branch like a pea ready for pickin’.

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Retama is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae), so the pea analogy works.

This combination of varying foliage pleases me:  Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, Globe MallowSphaeralcea ambigua, and GoldeneyeViguiera dentata.  

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This trio includes some of the premier hardy perennials easily available for the Austin gardener.

If you have, have had or have ever seen a teenage boy of that certain age when the hair is long and a bit shaggy, close your eyes and visualize that in this DamianitaChrysactinia mexicana.

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I love the swoosh of the “bangs” framed over the decorative stone.  Just imagine the teenage boy-head, constantly swooping his hair back to keep those bangs out of the eyes, in that annoyingly cute, but insolent way.

The wide, heart-shaped and deeply veined foliage of Coral VineAntigonon leptopus,

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suggests a tropical lushness that is welcome this time of year.

I’m enamored with strappy, striped foliage, like that of this Dianella or Variegated Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’,

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…and this Color Guard YuccaYucca filamentosa, ‘Color Guard’.

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Those banded beauties work nicely in concert with each other and with another pairing I like, the native ColumbineAquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana, mixed with the cultivar  Katie’s Dwarf RuelliaRuellia brittoniana, ‘Katie’s Dwarf’.

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The evergreen Columbine, with its soft form and graceful foliage, blooms yellow in spring. Conversely, the deciduous Katie’s Dwarf Ruellia has dark, lance-like leaves and sports sprays of deep purple from July through October.  Opposites attract and work well together–at least that’s true of these two plants.

Head over to Digging to check out other accolades to the leafy among us.

 

Wildflower Wednesday, April 2014

Celebrating all things wild…well just all things wild and flowery, here are some of my wild ones this beautiful April in Austin, Texas.

The luscious Yellow or Hinckley ColumbineAquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana, is still showing off after a month of blooms.

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A favorite of my honeybees is the Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens.

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Though this year, I haven’t spied any hummingbirds sipping nectar from those tubular blooms.

The Lyreleaf Sage, Salvia lyrata, sports a color I can’t quite capture with my camera–a rich blue-purple.  This tidy little Texas native blooms for about a month, then sets interesting seed heads for the summer.

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The sunny blooming Engelmann’s or Cutleaf Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, is so bright that it almost overpowers its native companions– the deep pink Hill Country Penstemon    Penstemon triflorus, to its left and the ‘Henry Duelberg’ Sage, Salvia farinacea, on its right.

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I love that combination and look forward to it every spring.

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Thanks to Gail at clay and limestone for hosting this wildflower party every month!