Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Plant of the Day: McKana's Giant Columbine

The flower that immediately comes to mind whenever anyone asks my favorite, is native species columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. Even the sound of the scientific name, I love. But when I got a package of 'McKana's Giant' Columbine seeds in a Mother's Day card from my middle-schooler a few years ago, I knew it was time to grow some hybrids.

I waited until the next spring to sow the seeds, a fact that would've made Middle-schooler mad, except for the zinnias in the same card that were planted right away and bloomed beautifully all summer. The columbine seeds were sown first in a seed flat inside in February, and then put out in the garden in April. They grew so slowly at first, and to make matters worse, something munched on a couple of plants which disappeared entirely after that. Deer aren't supposed to eat them, but the next year, they did. So even though the plants reached a reasonable size, with the deer pruning, they never flowered.

This year is the first year they've bloomed! It was a long wait, but Middle-schooler who in the meantime changed her name to High-schooler, is happy. And so am I!

'McKana's Giant', as you would expect, is a large plant. It can top 3 feet tall in the partly-shaded, well-drained soil that it prefers. The flowers are larger than our native columbine as well. Most notably, the spurs are quite long—as long as 4" in length. Hummingbirds and hawk-moths are the pollinators; they're the ones with the right physiques to negotiate that sort of distance to the nectar.

The colors of this hybrid are a range of pastels, from red to blue to yellow. Most flowers will be bicolored, with one color on the the sepals and another on the petals. There seems to be a new flower every day, often with a new color or color combination—variation may be the most exciting aspect of seed-grown plants. 'McKana's Giant' will hybridize readily with other columbines blooming close by, which can make things even more interesting.

One more thing to know about columbines: leafminers will take up residence sooner or later. Those pale, squiggly lines on the leaves are your first clue. Leafminers are the larvae of several different types of insects—flies, moths, beetles—that burrow between the layers of a leaf and chew tunnels.

In spite of the ugly they create (though it has a certain beauty, too, doesn't it?), you don't have to worry too much about the health of your plant. Columbines can feed lots of leafminers without succumbing.

Even if you decide you want to get rid of your leaf miners, there is no need to use a pesticide. The best control is to remove the affected leaves and throw them away (in the trash, not the compost pile).


Thank you to my daughter for a fun, long-lasting, and very beautiful Mother's Day was worth the wait!

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