AS A WILD FLOWER, Common Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris, occurs throughout Europe except in the far north but it is also frequently found as a garden escape. This plant, 16 inches tall with flowers 2 inches across, has made itself at home in our flower border – we never planted it there but it has sprung up near the bird feeder.

Commn Columbine often hybridises with other species of Aquilegia grown in gardens but this specimen comes close to the typical appearance of wild species; for instance, its stamens scarcely protrude beyond the petals.

The hooked spur behind each flower gives the plant its botanical name because of a resemblance to an eagle, Aquila, but its medieval Latin name Columbina, meaning a dove-like plant, seems nearer the mark as the five flowers with their wing-like petals look like a little gaggle of pigeons getting together.

With that long spur behind the flower, it’s not surprising that the main pollinators are long-tongued bees.

Botanical Drawing

Every spring, I feel the need to learn more about botany as, in May in particular, so many wild flowers appear in quick succession. But after all the distractions from my artwork that I’ve had for the past nine or ten months, I also feel the need to get back into the habit of drawing; real drawings that you might spend an hour or more on, rather than the snatched sketches that fill the bulk of my sketchbooks.

By drawing flowers I can combine those two; I can get some drawing practice while I learn more about botany through close observation. Drawing is great from that point of view because you can be wholly absorbed in the artistic process of drawing and yet also totally involved in the scientific discipline of close observation.

This second Columbine was growing on the raised bed. It’s larger than the other plant, growing 27 inches tall with flowers up to 3 inches in diameter.

9.34 a.m. As I drew it, I was aware of a movement behind me to my left; a vole was scurrying and pausing, apparently oblivious to my presence, by the shed door before disappearing under the shed. Later it emerged again and made its way under the hatch of the compost bin.

I believe that it’s a Short-tailed Vole, otherwise known as the Field Vole, Microtus agrestis.

I went back to the first plant to draw it in close up and from above in order to show more of the structure of the flower. You get a better view of those bird-like flowers.

In his Complete Herbal, Culpeper suggested Columbine for sore throats, liver complaints and jaundice.

“The seed also taken in wine causeth a speedy delivery of women in childbirth ; if one draught suffice not let her drink a second, and it will be found effectual. The Spaniards used to eat a piece of the root thereof in a morning fasting, many days together, to help them when troubled with stone in the reins or kidneys.”

In Shakespearean English, reins is a synonym for kidneys.

I wouldn’t recommend you to try any of these remedies; Columbine is a member of the – often poisonous – buttercup family, so I would treat it with caution.