The European, or Garden, Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) is a perennial plant with blue, purple, or white flowers. Each flower is about as long as it is wide. This plant, which is a member of the Buttercup family, will grow up to 3 feet tall.(1)
The European Columbine has spread widely across North Americas and is often found along roadsides and in the fields of the Eastern United States. Columbines are known to be good additions to butterfly gardens and landscape borders. The flowers will attract butterflies when blooming and then provide ground cover after the flowers pass. (2)
The Columbine gets its name from the Latin word columba meaning dove-like, and it shows up early in human history as the sacred flower of the Goddess Venus. Then, early Christians use the Columbine as a symbol for the Holy Spirit.(3)
Riklef Kandeler and Wolfram R. Ullrich explain in Symbolism of plants: Examples from European-Mediterranean Culture Presented with Biology and History of Art that “the tripartite leaves were seen as symbols of Trinity” and that “seven columbine flowers can be interpreted as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: sapientia (wisdom), intellectus (intellect or intelligence), consilium (advice), fortitudo (strength), scientia (knowledge), pietas (reverence), and timo (fear-of God)”. It is also common to see a motif of three Columbine flowers in Christian art and woodcarvings because the set of three flowers represent the three Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love or Charity. (4)(5)
As with most things in nature, the Columbine has a long and complex relationship with humans. This flower, which is now a common sight along the side of the road, was also a cherished symbol of love and the human spirit. One of the fascinating things about learning the stories we tell about the natural world is that it fosters a deeper connection to the land. The narratives that have been told about the plants and animals of the earth help build a connection. This connection links my experiences to the experiences of those before me and to the planet. Wendell Berry highlights this connection in The Unsettling of America when he says, “The earth is what we all have in common.” Exploring the stories that we tell ourselves about the plants and animals around us accentuates this. The thread of “story” connects us all and weaves our humanity together. We may even come to realize that we are not separate from the natural world, but a part of it.
The challenge is what do we do with that shared story and how do we write the future chapters?
- Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide
- Missouri Botanical Garden:Aquilegia vulgaris
- Wikipedia:Aquilegia vulgaris
- Riklef Kandeler, Wolfram R. Ullrich, Symbolism of plants: examples from European-Mediterranean culture presented with biology and history of art:
- Plantlife UK Columbine
- Wendell Berry: The Unsettling of America