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Not to Whine over the Columbine

© 2024 Meg

April 24, 2024

“I can do this. I’ll take a seed tray of Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) home and watch over it,” I announced to the native plant nursery co-chair at Magnuson Park.

It was late November, when we propagate native plants by seed. The nursery leader makes a delicate, moist seed-potting medium. You push your finger in along the length of the tray, in three places, to produce three shallow ditches. You sprinkle seeds into the ditches and pinch the medium back over the seeds.

Most of the trays stay at the nursery but sometimes there is extra seed. Western columbine is a plant that I was hoping to plant at our FECO orchard so I made my own tray.

One tends to fret about the progress of seed trays. Advanced propagators just put the tray under a shrub and walk away. (Nature does the necessary work during the winter months.)

Check the Calendar Page
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Sun. April 7, 1-4, Spring Plant Sale
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By late February, I was fretting. I had been to a nursery work party and noticed that their columbine seed trays had successfully germinated and many tiny reddish green Western columbine seedlings were poking their heads above the soil. Sadly, my tray at home was still dark brown. Nothing.

I checked my tray each week, wondering and wishing. Seven weeks passed and then my seed tray began to change color; there were dozens and dozens of mini plants. Hurrah!

In a few weeks, I began to pluck out the tots with tweezers and pot them up. I think I had over 28 – 4″ pots and I set them in my netted side-yard nursery, out of the reach of squirrels and rabbits.

Over the next several weeks, I noticed the plants began to suffer, not from squirrels or rabbits, but from tiny pests. Note the aphid (40X) sucking the life out of a columbine stem. Later in the season, a united team of whitefly (Aleyrodidae) joined in on the fun. Same gig; they slurped up the nutritious vegetable juice. Beats a V-8 any day!

Nevertheless, the starts struggled to survive! Then, just as they began to flex their muscles, powdery mildew descended upon them. Doomed. Doomed they were.

None of the columbine qualified for our recent FECO plant sale. I shoved the remaining stunted plants on the bottom shelf of the nursery and prepared for the sale.

Two weeks ago, a friend knew I was volunteering at the big WNPS plant sale and asked me to purchase a plant for her – Western Columbine. At the sale there were only a few but volunteers were privileged to be first in line. One columbine was big and gorgeous. I drooled. I bought it for my friend and delivered it. She was pleased when I took it to her and I asked how she was going to protect it from the rabbits. Her reply, “Oh yes. The rabbits eat so many plants. But they don’t seem to bother my other various columbine. I think it will be all right.”

I could hardly hold back my dismay. Knowing how hard it can be to produce that wonderful vibrant plant, I wanted to grab it back, take it to my house, and put it in a vault! I kept my mouth shut.

Last week, I finally had time to check through my little nursery to see if … perhaps … any of the FECO sale rejects had somehow absorbed the energy of our annual spring plant eruption. I stretched to peer on the bottom shelf, looking for the bruised and battered columbine survivors. My jaw dropped. The plants showed leaves without holes and were growing. They survived!

After such an ordeal, they decidedly deserve a real home in the soil. This week we will respectfully transition them to the FECO native plant area.


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