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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Aquilegia, Seeds

I harvested in mid July some columbine seeds (unknown Aquilegia cultivar). Can I plant outside now? Do I need to start indoors? Or wait?


A great book resource used to find this answer was Seeds: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Successfully from Seed by Jekka McVicar. In the book, McVicar recommends "sowing fresh seeds in early summer into pots or modules using standard soil-less seed compost (substrate), either a peat free proprietary blend or composted fine propagating bark. Cover with perlite or vermiculite. Place under protection at 50F (10C)" If the seeds are old (viable for 5 years), "sow seed in autumn into pots. Use standard loam-based seed compost (substrate) mixed with coarse horticultural sand. Mix to a ratio of 1 part compost + 1 part sand. Cover lightly with compost and place outside, exposed to all the weathers. Germination takes place the following spring but can be erratic. May flower in its first or second season." (p.145)

Date 2018-03-14
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Aquilegia, Edible wild plants, Poisonous plants, Edible landscaping

I've been reading up on permaculture and exploring the edibility of common ornamental plants. Several books I've looked at suggest that columbine flowers (Aquilegia canadensis and Aquilegia vulgaris, specifically) are edible. I have my doubts, since columbine is in the family Ranunculaceae, which I would generally consider poisonous. What do you think?


I think you are right to question your sources. Although some species of Aquilegia have ethnobotanical uses as food, you should still proceed with caution. I found information about edible and medicinal uses of Aquilegia formosa. Daniel Moerman's Native American Food Plants, Timber Press, 2010, mentions that the Miwok boiled and ate the early spring greens, and that children of the Hanaksiala tribe sucked nectar from the flowers. In her book Ethnobotany of Western Washington (University of Washington, 1979), Erna Gunther mentions medicinal and edible uses of this species of columbine. The Quileute tribe used the sap to aid in healing wounds, and Chehalis children sucked "honey out of the flowers." However, The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms by Nancy Turner and Patrick von Aderkas (Timber Press, 2009) lists Aquilegia species as toxic:
"Most [members of the Ranunculaceae] contain irritant protoanemonins; columbines contain cyanogenic glycosides."

Columbine is included in University of Vermont Extension's list of "Potentially Harmful Perennials." St. Olaf College's page on wild columbine points out a common confusion between the blossoms of honeysuckle and columbine:
"Young children often mistake Columbine for Honeysuckle, pulling off the flowers and biting the spurs in search of nectar. Though no official records of toxicity have been reported for Columbine, it belongs to a family which contains other toxic species. Caution is advised."

The Plants for a Future database of edible and medicinal plants lists a number of species of columbine. Here is their page on Aquilegia canadensis. I don't find myself convinced by the statement that "the flowers are probably perfectly safe to eat." The entry for Aquilegia vulgaris says that the flowers are "rich in nectar, they are sweet and delightful, they make a very attractive addition to mixed salads and can also be used as a thirst-quenching munch in the garden. The flowers are also used as a tea substitute." It is worth looking at the sources cited at the end of this entry, to decide if you feel they are trustworthy. To summarize, when in doubt, don't eat the columbines (or any other plant whose edibility is debatable)!

Date 2017-08-15
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May 31 2018 13:14:08