May 2022 Plant of the Month
Aquilegia canadensis L., Wild Columbine
May’s Plant of the Month is a vibrantly colored native perennial, wild columbine. Aquilegia canadensis is a member of the Buttercup family, the Ranunculaceae. Our species is the only native species in the east. Wild columbine is found from southern Canada to Georgia, west to the Ozarks. New Jersey’s population is found statewide, yet the plant is centered north of the Coastal Plain where it is common in the rich, dry rocky woodland of the Piedmont, Highlands and Valley and Ridge Province. It occurs on the Coastal Plain in dry woodlands within the Delaware draining watersheds from Mercer to Cape May. It is absent the Pine Barrens except as introduced plants around old home sites. Mary Hough (1983) shows specimens have been collected from every NJ County except Ocean.
The wild columbine is a weak perennial, often seeding in the same general vicinity. It flowers in April and early May when its distinct complex flowers become visible. No other New Jersey spring wild flower has an appearance, both form and color combination similar to our Plant of the Month, making it an easy species to identify. Stone (1910) describes the southern Coastal Plain plants more robust and taller than the specimens found on the rocky hillside of North Jersey. Stone also cites two coastal sites that once supported a yellow form.
Wild columbine had a native American use as medicine for a variety of ailments, specifically gastrointestinal and analgesic. It is also a favorite nectar plant of the Ruby Throated Hummingbird. For southern New Jersey birders, we know when the hummingbirds returns when the wild columbine flowers.
Our Plant of the Month is in flower now. Look for dry roadsides where native flora prosper, away from the influences of farm and the heavy influences of suburban landscapes. Its flower is fleeting, yet worth the search.