Columbine flower

The beauty of the columbine flower is only one of the many treasures it will bestow upon curious explorers

REBECCA WHITMAN, for THE NEWS

At this time of the year, our daughters are keeping a keen eye out for columbine flowers.

They stand out in the woodland landscape with their red color and strangely beautiful form. From the top of the flower grows five long “fingers” that reach upward. The flower, however, is facing downward, so to really get the full effect, you must get a peek from underneath.

Now a bright yellow burst comes into view, with a cascade of stamens emerging like fireworks. This serves as a great reminder that in nature, if we take the time to look a little longer or more carefully, amazing things will often be revealed.

A flower this showy is bound to inspire fancy, and it is well-documented that people once thought it a flower of love. Its seeds were said to have a strong scent that would attract one’s true love. Rubbed on the hands as a perfume, no one could resist you.

They’ve crept into our gardens as well. Not just in their wild forms, but in a dizzying array of cultivars. The colors can be so dazzling that often, when people see some of the more outrageous varieties, they won’t even believe the flowers are real.

Columbines can also inspire resilience. If you wander, you will find them growing up along city sidewalks, on a forest path, or even holding on to cliff-edges. Take the time to sit next to a columbine growing on a wind-swept cliff, and you’ll hear a tale of blooming into our grandest form even if we’re not given the best conditions in which to thrive.

These, however, are adult considerations, and to the senses of a child, the pleasures of the columbine are simply delightful. Turn the flower over, and you have five chalices fit for serving the faeries. Better yet, at the end of each “finger” there awaits a special treasure. At the tip of each is a small pouch filled with nectar. Subtle-sweet, tiny teeth can nip the end off and understand, for a moment, what gets moths and butterflies and bumblebees so excited.

A word of warning if you wish to taste this treat. The columbine family contains many toxic species. Our wild columbine here in Wisconsin doesn’t seem to be toxic, with no reports of anyone getting sick. However, tiny tastes are probably safest. For our family, it’s a yearly tradition to seek them out and nibble two or three pouches each. It’s a tiny pleasure, but one that brings smiles and an eager anticipation of next year when the columbine blooms again.

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