The flowers selected for this week’s article display the colors of our flag — red, white and blue — and all three plants are native to the United States. All three are still blooming at middle to upper elevations in the Blues.
Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa – red blossoms): This plant is the most common of the two columbine species in the Blues. Its flowers face downward, are mainly bright red, with five red spurs at the back and yellow petals facing down. The other columbine in the Blues has smaller flowers that are all yellow, and are seldom seen. Red Columbine is found from Alaska to Alberta to Baja, and east to Wyoming and to Arizona. Indian tribes in the West had many medicinal uses for the plants, and children would suck nectar from the spurs.
Black Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa v. melanocarpa – white blossoms): This variety is found in the Blues, and grows from the ground each spring, reaching about 3 to 9 feet tall by the time it produces its small black berries. It is found east of the Cascade crest from Southwest Canada to California to New Mexico. It looks closely like the cultivated European black elderberry, and the blue-black elderberry along the river in town and in the Blues, both of which are woody shrubs reaching 20 feet or more. All three have large clusters of white flowers and tasty berries, though the blue-black berries are the largest. Many tribes have used the plant for medicinal purposes, and used the berries for food and to make wine.
Burke’s Lupine (Lupinus burkei – blue blossoms): Burke’s lupine is one of the larger lupine species in Northeast Oregon, and very showy. The plants send up foot-long spikes crowded with blue blossoms at the top, and the compound leaves are up to 8 inches wide and smooth on the upper surface. It grows east of the Cascades, from British Columbia to California, and east to Montana and southward. I could not find any report of uses for this plant.