June 3 – June 7, 2020.
I may have found my favorite flower. The columbine. When we were in Bryce Canyon we saw the Blue Columbine, which I thought was very pretty and definitely unique. But while we at Great Basin I spotted a red one, and became intrigued.
Probably the first time I ever heard the word columbine I had no idea it was a flower. This was after the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. I thought it was some kind of farm vehicle for bringing in crops. But that’s a combine. And really, who would name a school after a harvesting machine? I think I first realized it was a flower when I heard the song, “Columbine”, by singer-songwriter, Townes Van Zandt (probably best known for penning the song “Pancho and Lefty”). Here are a few lines…
“Cut yourself a columbine
Tear it from the stem
Now breathe upon the petals fine
And throw them to the wind
Watch the petals dancin’
See them twirl and sing
All your pride and prancin’
How much does it mean?”
I find it curious that Van Zant follows such violent imagery, “Tear it from the stem” with a bit of whimsy, “Watch the petals dancin’, See them twirl and sing”. Perhaps, like me, he did a little research on the flower and was illustrating the yin/yang some people see in the bloom.
The flower’s common name, Columbine, is derived from the word columba, which is Latin for dove. The dove is generally thought to be a symbol of peace and love. But columbine’s scientific name is Aquilegia. In Latin, aquilegia means eagle, a bird of prey with sharp talons for capturing and killing its dinner. These flesh-tearing talons were thought to resemble the flower’s spurs, which inspired its name. Not very “peace and love”-like.
But not everyone thinks the Columbine’s spurs resemble talons. Some think they look like a five-pronged jester’s hat, associating the flower with foolishness. “All your pride and prancin’, How much does it mean?” Sounds foolish to me.
And some believe these same spurs when fallen to the ground resemble the Virgin Mary’s shoes or tiny doves making the columbine a symbol of innocence or of the Holy Spirit.
The different colors of the columbine are also supposed to impart different meanings. Red represents anxiousness or worry, yellow lightness, happiness, vivaciousness, vitality, and purple penance.
But I don’t see any of this. I see a flower with a beauty that is at the same time simple and complicated. Its thin stem doesn’t seem to be strong enough to hold the bloom’s weight as it bows over in a sort of modest curtsey. It’s red “wings” span out in a gentle wave with its spurs rising up to the sky. Radiance spills out of the bloom like golden hair.
Whatever the flower’s meaning or what anyone else sees in it, I can understand why Van Zant was inspired to include this flower in his song. And it’s made all the difference now that I’ve seen one and can visualize its delicate petals, and not tractor parts, flowing through the air.
* If you would like to read all the lyrics of Townes Van Zandt’s song, Columbine, click here.
*** With this post, we have documented 184 wildflowers and blooming trees, bushes, and cactus.
**** Although we use iNaturalist to identify our flowers, we can’t guarantee that all IDs are correct. We do our best.
***** All pics are click to enlarge (the flowers are even prettier when you enlarge them).
These flowers were taken in and around the area of Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada.
Bonneville Salt Flats
These flowers were photographed in the area around Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah.