Common Columbine gets its name “columbine” from the Latin word “columba”, meaning dove, from the shape of its flowers. Looking at it from the side, you might be reminded of a flock of doves in flight. From the top, however, some have speculated that they look like the claw of an eagle, which is why its Genus name is “Aquilegia”, after “aquila”, meaning eagle. If at first glance you thought it would make a cute bonnet, you would also be correct in naming it so, as this species also goes by the name Granny’s Bonnet. What might not be quite so obvious at first glance is that this species belongs to the Ranunculus family of plants, otherwise known as the Buttercup family. The resemblance is easiest to see in the leaf shape. The three part leaves of Common Columbine are incredibly similar to its cousin, the Buttercup.
Speaking in a broader sense about the genus Aquilegia, meaning all species of Columbine, the nectar spur length evolves to match the tongue length of the pollinator that drinks their nectar. Adaptive radiation is the process by which an ancestral species rapidly evolves into multiple species to fill new environmental niches. Aquilegia species have all evolved from a single original species, and each species has evolved to suit a specific pollinator. A plant adapting its trait in response to a specific pollinator is called a pollination syndrome. The relationship between pollinator and pollinatee is often quite complex, which allows for efficient pollination. Only individuals that will pollinate the plant are “rewarded” with nectar. However, this is a delicate balance and the failure of one half of the relationship could be disastrous for the other. If the specialised pollinator goes extinct, who will pollinate the plant?
Luckily for our Common Columbine, it’s a popular species among UK pollinators. With an incredibly long history in a variety of cultures, Columbine is a treasured, symbolic flower in the wild and in gardens. It’s unique, delicate form makes it a wonderful addition to any garden and its familiar face is a welcome sight in spring landscapes.