A (Second) Close-up View of the

Origami Columbine

Aquilegia caerulea hybrid 'Origami'

by Brian Johnston   (Canada)

The Columbine
Still, still my eye will gaze long fixed on thee,
Till I forget that I am called a man,
And at thy side fast-rooted seem to be,
And the breeze comes my cheek with thine to fan.
Upon this craggy hill our life shall pass,
A life of summer days and summer joys,
Nodding our honey-bells mid pliant grass
In which the bee half hid his time employs;
And here we'll drink with thirsty pores the rain,
And turn dew-sprinkled to the rising sun,
And look when in the flaming west again
His orb across the heaven its path has run;
Here left in darkness on the rocky steep,
My weary eyes shall close like folding flowers in sleep.

Jones Very
(1813 - 1880)

The Columbine is one of my favourite macro-photography subjects.  In an earlier article, I attempted to give a complete picture of this elegant and unusual member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).  However, when the next spring arrived, I had new equipment, and my local garden centre had a fresh supply of Origami hybrids;  I just couldn’t resist the challenge of recording more images of this species with, (perhaps), a different perspective! 

As I mentioned in the previous article, the common name Columbine is derived from the Latin columba which means ‘dove’.  Botanists obviously thought that the flower’s distinctive spurs resembled a group of these birds.  Aquilegia, the genus name, is derived from the Latin aquilinum which means ‘like an eagle’, since the curved spurs appear like the talons of an eagle.

The leaves of the Columbine are a particularly attractive shade of green, and have three lobes, each with rounded serrations.

Veining on both the front (left), and back (right) surfaces of a leaf can be seen in the higher magnification images below.  Notice the difference in colour between front and back.

Since in the previous article, a red and white cultivar was the subject, I have chosen to study the pale mauve and white one shown in the image below.

Very early-stage buds have minimal colour, but as time progresses, the outer layer of sepals (modified leaves) takes on a pale green tinge, and the spurs develop a pinkish-brown hue.

I find the intermediate stage of bud development shown below to be particularly elegant, and remarkably sculptural.

This elegance is lost as the bud lengthens, and prepares to bloom.

The tiny spurs that will eventually grow to become the flower’s most distinctive feature are shown in the higher magnification macro-photographs that follow.

Notice the changes in appearance of the buds as time progresses along a diagonal line from lower right to upper left in the photograph below.

By the time that the bud begins to open, it has darkened to the mauve hue of the mature flower.  Here again, the structural elegance is striking.  Note that what you are seeing at this point are sepals, and not petals.  Remember that the inner corolla formed by the petals is white in colour.

If you look into the bud’s opening, the white petals are finally visible, as are the reproductive structures.

Cursory examination of the opening flower gives little indication as to whether the long spurs are connected to the sepals or to the petals.  (Later images will answer this question.)

After a period of almost two weeks, the tiny pale green bud seen earlier has opened into the distinctive Columbine flower.

In the bloom shown in the images that follow, the whorl of pointed, purple sepals form the flower’s calyx, while the whorl of curved white petals forms its corolla.  Note the circular, shadowed area at the base of each petal.  This is a depression that leads to the petal’s spur.

At the flower’s centre is a group of stamens consisting of pale green filaments supporting yellow anthers.  The pistils are not visible as yet.

The anthers (male pollen producing structures) are not yet releasing any pollen.  Their surface is covered by a very thin membrane, sometimes called the anther cap, which will eventually disintegrate to reveal the pollen.

I have deliberately chosen the angle in the image on the right below, because it shows that the base of each petal is positioned between the two sepals on either side.

As you can see in the image that follows, each spur is connected at its top to the base of a petal.

If you look very carefully at the yellow anthers in the images below, you may be able to see that the ones furthest from the flower are smaller, and have a darker colour.

This is much easier to see when we move closer to the flower.  Not only are the protective membranes gone in the outermost anthers, but the flower’s many pale green pistils are now visible.

The image on the left below shows anthers with membranes intact.  On the right, these membranes have darkened, and have begun the process of disintegration.

Eventually, ‘typical’ anthers, copiously coated with yellow pollen, become visible.  Notice the pale green, rod-like styles that support stigmas in the image on the left.

The tip of one of these stigmas (pollen accepting organ) can be seen below.

A high magnification macro-photograph showing the group of styles near the base of the flower reveals that each is covered with tiny translucent hairs.

After being successfully fertilized, the ovaries connected to the base of the styles begin to increase in size.  Although the stigmas are still present, both anthers and filaments have fallen from the flower.  In the right-hand image, the light brown, dried remnants of the petals remain.  In the left-hand image, even these have been blown away by the wind.

My personal preference on the subject of flower colouration is for subtle hues.  Brilliant colours seem too garish.  Since I realize that my views are not shared by most flower-lovers, I have included this final section in the article for those with coarser tastes.  (I’m only joking!)

The buds of the red and white cultivar shown above are identical in structure to the other, but they have much more intense colouration.  Notice the deep red colour of the tips of the spurs in the image on the left.

Both the surface of the red sepal, and that of the spur are hairy.  At this stage, the sepal’s base is wrapped tightly around the top of the spur.

Each of the flower’s spurs is a hollow, elongated tube which contains specialized cells that secrete nectar.  The spur forms a reservoir for this nectar that collects in both the tube, and in the knob-like bulge at its tip.  (The surface tension of the liquid holds it in these locations even if the flower is positioned at an angle where gravity would tend to cause the nectar to flow out of the spur.)

The cellular structure of a spur, and its bulbous tip, can be seen at high magnification below.

Notice in this red and white cultivar, that the tips of the red sepals are white, while the bases of the white petals are red.

This flower was photographed before the anthers’ membranes had begun to disintegrate.

For some reason, the columnar sections of a fertilized flower’s ovaries have twisted in a corkscrew fashion.

In the flower shown below, this is not the case.

I hope that this article has given you a different perspective on the Columbine – one from a closer point of view.

Photographic Equipment

The low magnification, (to 1:1), macro-photographs were taken using a 13 megapixel Canon 5D full frame DSLR, using a Canon EF 180 mm 1:3.5 L Macro lens.

An 8 megapixel Canon 20D DSLR, equipped with a specialized high magnification (1x to 5x) Canon macro lens, the MP-E 65 mm 1:2.8, was used to take the remainder of the images.

A Flower Garden of Macroscopic Delights

A complete graphical index of all of my flower articles can be found here.

The Colourful World of Chemical Crystals

A complete graphical index of all of my crystal articles can be found here.

 All comments to the author Brian Johnston are welcomed.

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