Aquilegia (Columbine; from Latin columba "dove") is a genus of about 60-70 species of perennial plants that are found in meadows, woodlands, and at higher altitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere, known for the spurred petals of their flowers. Fruit is a follicle.
Columbines are closely related to plants in the genera Actaea (baneberries) and Aconitum (wolfsbanes/monkshoods), which like Aquilegia produce cardiogenic toxins.
They are used as food plants by some Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) caterpillars. These are mainly of noctuid moths – noted for feeding on many poisonous plants without harm – like Cabbage Moth (Mamestra brassicae), Dot Moth (Melanchra persicariae) and Mouse Moth (Amphipyra tragopoginis). The Engrailed (Ectropis crepuscularia), a geometer moth, also uses columbine as larval foodplant.
Several species are grown in gardens, including the European Columbine (A. vulgaris), a traditional garden flower in many parts of the world. Numerous cultivars and hybrids have also been developed as well. They are easy to propagate from seed.
The flowers of various species of Colombine were consumed in moderation by Native Americans as a condiment with other fresh greens, and are reported to be very sweet, and safe if consumed in small quantities. The plant's seeds and roots are highly poisonous however, and contain cardiogenic toxins which cause both severe gastroenteritis and heart palpitations if consumed as food.
Native Americans used very small amounts of Aquilegia root as an effective treatment for ulcers. However, the medical use of this plant is better avoided due to its high toxicity; columbine poisonings may be fatal.
The Colorado Blue Columbine (A. caerulea) is the official state flower of Colorado (see also Columbine, Colorado).
Also, columbines have been important in the study of evolution. It was found that Sierra Columbine (A. pubescens) and Crimson Columbine (A. formosa) each have specifically adapted pollinators, with hawkmoths that can pollinate one species while usually failing to pollinate the other. Such a "pollination syndrome", being due to flower genetics, ensures reproductive isolation and can be a cause of underlying speciation.
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