Yesterday I began collecting seeds of columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). The plants ares still in bloom even as seeds begin to ripen, as the photo shows. The seed capsules turns from green to brown and the top opens as the seeds inside mature (the seed capsule on the right in the photo is half mature). When you seed the open capsule, you simply shake the seeds into your hand or a container.
Each season I collect seeds of upwards of a dozen native species. I supply plants, seedlings, and divisions to friends, clients, neighbors, an elementary school, the Glen Rock Arboretum, my house of worship, and many other local institutions. I can do this because I grow pure species, not hybrids or cultivars. My plants were created by nature, not people, so they are fertile and grow true to type from seed.
I learned this lesson the hard way many years ago when I planted coreopsis ‘Moonbeam,’ a cultivar of threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata). ‘Moonbeam’ has pale yellow flowers instead of the bright yellow flowers of the species, and it’s very pretty. But when it was in bloom, I watched as the pollinating insects flew right by it. It produced no seed. Something had happened to the plant in the course of breeding to render it sterile. Either the flowers did not produce pollen, or they were unattractive to pollinators, or they weren’t producing the right scent, or for some other reason, those plants were infertile. Because I garden for insects and fruit as well as for flowers, I pulled them all up, and I’ve stuck to pure species ever since.
Columbine seed is particularly easy to gather, and the plants are highly prolific. I gathered a handful of seed yesterday, all that I can possibly use myself this season.
I scattered these seeds in the two places in my garden that can use more columbine, and the rest of this season’s crop will be given away.
Nothing could be easier than growing columbine from seed. You simply scatter the seeds on the ground where you want the plants to be. (Columbine is taprooted, and like all taprooted plants, it’s difficult to move once established.) The seeds will germinate within a few weeks, and each season they will grow larger, until they reach blooming size in their third growing season. And then those plants will produce their first seed, and the cycle will continue.