Columbine, A Plant With Many Meanings

As part of the process that I use to write articles for our site I always try to do a little research to find out some unique facts about the topic that I am going to write about. I was surprised to find that columbine has been a symbol for many cultures and groups. For example, it was the flower most associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. It has also been seen as a symbol of virtue as it was said that as the Virgin Mary walked to see Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, her shoes caused the columbine flower to spring up as a symbol of her innocence.  It has been said that columbine represents foolishness as the shape of its flower has been considered by some to look like the hat and bells of a Court Jester. It is also the state flower of Colorado. Regardless of what the flower might represent columbine belongs in your garden!

Columbine is a perennial flower that is a popular choice in English cottage gardens, but its adaptability allows it to be a good choice no matter what type of gardening you do. They prefer a soil that is moist but drains well. They will tolerate sunny and even dry conditions if provided a good layer of mulch to help maintain moisture in the soil. They are good to grow in garden zones 3 through 9, but if you live in zone 9 you may need to provide this plant some shade as it doesn’t do as well in places with hot conditions in the summer. You may find these plants in your local garden center, but they are very easy to grow from seed although seed-grown plants usually won’t flower until their second year. While the plant may only last 3 or 4 growing seasons, the ease with which this plant self-seeds means you’ll never be in short supply.

Columbines are available in almost all colors of the rainbow and many varieties have bi-colored flowers. The flower has a unique shape and its foliage has a lace-like quality to it. It is deer-resistant, but very attractive to hummingbirds as its flowers hold a significant amount of nectar. Monthly fertilization will enhance the color of the blooms and make the foliage thicker, but I’ve grown this plant for years, never fertilized it, and the blooms are plentiful and eye-catching.

Like any plant there are some drawbacks to columbine. It is subject to a fungal disease, powdery mildew, which is most often a problem in areas with warm daytime and cool nighttime temperatures. Planting columbine in an area with good air circulation can help prevent this problem. It is also prone to damage from leaf miners; these pests actually feed inside the leaves of the plants. You’ll know you have them because you’ll see lines on the leaves that look like tunnels. The good news is that this is more a problem with the aesthetics of the leaves and the plant isn’t damaged by the insects. You can simply cut off the impacted foliage and new leaves will regrow to replace them.  So why not plant some columbine this year and maybe it will develop a special meaning for you too?

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