Columbines, Monk's-hoods & Allies

Common Columbine Love-in-a-mist Common Monk's-hood Common Larkspur

What are they?

This page is a bit of a 'catch-all' for a cluster of several groups of plants that may seem very dissimilar at first, but which mostly tend to have blue flowers (although garden forms in other colours exist!) and all of which are members of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). In keeping with most members of the family (though strangely not the buttercups themselves!), these plants have sepals and petals that are similar to each other and which are often collectively referred to as 'tepals'. In the monk's-hoods, the outer tepals have expanded into hood-like structures that almost enclose the rest of the flower, while the columbines and larkspurs have their inner tepals expanded backwards into long, nectar-filled spurs.

Where are they found?

These plants are mostly cultivated as garden plants and may turn up in churchyards or on marginal land in urban environments. The annual species are commonly included in 'wild flower mixes' and are sometimes purposefully sown on arable headlands, allotment borders or amenity areasm including roadsides.

Identification

The various groups of plants on this page are relatively easy to tell from each other by their flower shapes and often by their leaves. Within the groups, identification may be more technical and care should be taken to note as much detail as possible about the flowers. Note that details of the bracteoles are useful in the larkspurs. Bracteoles are small bracts that can be found on the flower stalk, close to the base of the flower. They are rather small but should be visible without the need of a hand lens.



Common Columbine      Aquilegia vulgaris

Formerly considered native in the region but that is probably no longer the case and this plant is commonly found in urban environments and rough ground as an escape from cultivation. Flowers May to June. Grows to 40-100cm in height. A very distinctive plant, with rich blue flowers and long spurs that have curled tips. Leaves are hairless with a slightly bluish-green cast to them, each leaf being divided into three segments.

Common Columbine Common Columbine Common Columbine Common Columbine
Habit
Flower
Flower
Flower
Common Columbine Common Columbine Common Columbine
Leaves
Leaf
Seed capsules


Common Columbine varieties      Aquilegia vulgaris

Cultivated varieties of Common Columbine are commonly found in urban environments and rough ground as escapes from cultivation. Flowers May to June. Introduced plants share the foliage details of the species, but the flowers may be blue, white, pink or red and with single or double flowers (plants with red in them may in fact be hybrids with red-flowered, North American species).

Common Columbine Common Columbine Common Columbine Common Columbine
Flower
Flowers
Flower
Flower


Love-in-a-mist      Nigella damascena

An ancient introduction, probably originally as a weed of cultivated soil but now occurs where it self-seeds after originally being sown in 'wild flower mixes'. Flowers April to June. Grows to 20-40cm in height. A very distinctive plant (though there are related species so far not recorded in our area). Cultivated forms may have white or double flowers.

Love-in-a-mist Love-in-a-mist Love-in-a-mist Love-in-a-mist
Habit
Flower
Flower
Flower
Love-in-a-mist Love-in-a-mist Love-in-a-mist Love-in-a-mist
Leaves
Leaves
Leaf
Seed capsule


Common Larkspur      Consolida ajacis

An ancient introduction, formerly naturalised as a weed of cultivated soil but now occurs where it self-seeds after originally being sown in 'wild flower mixes'. Flowers June to September. Grows to one metre in height, but often much shorter. Flowers deep bluish-purple, plae blue or white in cultivated forms. Best told from Eastern Larkspur by the uppermost, tiny bracteole at the base of each flower, which is not long enough to strongly overlap the flower.

Common Larkspur Common Larkspur Common Larkspur Common Larkspur
Habit
Flowers
Flower
Flower
Common Larkspur Common Larkspur Common Larkspur Common Larkspur
Flower spurs
Flower bracteole
Leaves
Leaves


Eastern Larkspur      Consolida hispanica

Introduced from eastern Europe, probably as a contaminant of imported grain or perhaps birdfood. Rare, with less than 10 records from our region. Flowers June to September. Grows to one metre in height, but often much shorter. Flowers decidedly more purple than those of Common Larkspur and with much longer flower bracteoles, which strongly overlap the base of the flowers.

Eastern Larkspur Eastern Larkspur Eastern Larkspur Eastern Larkspur
Habit
Flowers
Flower bracteole
Leaves


Hybrid Monk's-hood      Aconitum x stoerkianum

A hybrid of garden origin. Of uncertain status in East Anglia since most monk's-hood records here do not appear to have been confirmed accurately to species. Likely to occur as an occasional garden escape or where planted in cemeteries and similar places. Flowers August to October. May grow to two metres in height, but often much shorter. Flowers come in various shades of bluish-purple to white and may often be bicoloured. Best told from Common Monk's-hood by the shape of the helmeted upper part of the flower. In Hybrid Monk's-hood this is typically clearly higher than wide when viewed from the side and contracts abruptly into a short, pointed tip.

Hybrid Monk's-hood Hybrid Monk's-hood Hybrid Monk's-hood Hybrid Monk's-hood
Habit
Flowers
Flower
Flower
Hybrid Monk's-hood Hybrid Monk's-hood Hybrid Monk's-hood Hybrid Monk's-hood
Leaf
Leaf
Leaf
Seed capsule


Common Monk's-hood      Aconitum napellus

Introduced in East Anglia and probably formerly occurred as a relic or escape from cultivation when it was used medicinally. It would be interesting to know whether it still persists in some of the old sites but more recent occurrences may relate to Hybrid Monk's-hood. Flowers May to June. May grow to one metre in height. Flowers deep bluish-mauve. Best told from Common Monk's-hood by the shape of the helmeted upper part of the flower. In Common Monk's-hood this is typically about as high as it is wide when viewed from the side and draws out more gradually into its pointed tip.

Common Monk's-hood Common Monk's-hood Common Monk's-hood Common Monk's-hood
Habit
Flowers
Flower
Flower


Wolf's-bane      Aconitum lycoctonum

Introduced from continental Europe and once recorded from Suffolk. Flowers May to June. May grow to two metres in height. Flowers pale yellow, sometimes with a lilac flush.

Wolf's-bane Wolf's-bane
Flower buds
Leaf