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AQUILEGIA

Image of Aquilegia

James H. Schutte

Family

Ranunculaceae

Botanical Name

AQUILEGIA

Plant Common Name

Columbine

General Description

The blooms of columbine are fanciful and delicate. Aquilegia is a genus of about 70 species that exist across northern temperate zones worldwide. Many are woodland plants and some are alpines. The species vary widely in size, habit and floral attributes.

Columbines are hardy clump-forming perennials that often grow from small slender woody rhizomes (underground lateral stems). The small delicate thin leaves appear in branches of three and often have three scalloped lobes. They appear the spring and form mounded clumps. The foliage may be pale green, grey green or deep green.

The intricate flowers are what make these plants so special. They are held on slender stems of various lengths. The blooms may be pedant, nodding or upward-facing and usually bloom in spring or summer. Flowers may be single or produced in loose clusters. Many have flowers that have prominent hollow nectar-holding spurs that extend backwards. These are commonly flanked by five showy petal-like sepals called tepals. These flowers come in all shades of the rainbow and bicolored blooms are common. Numerous seeds are readily produced in dry upright fruits with a five-parted capsule called a follicle. Small black seeds shake down from these like rain.

Aquilegia species cross easily and create natural hybrids, which is one reason why they have been so heavily hybridized. Interesting species include Aquilegia alpinia, a diminutive native of the Alps with nodding, bright blue flowers, Rocky Mountain columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) with its tall stems full of blue and white flowers, and the drought tolerant Arizona columbine (Aquilegia desertorum) that has small bright orange and yellow blooms.

Columbines are easy to grow and prefer full sun to partial shade. They grow in many soils but woodland species prefer evenly moist, organic-rich soil with good drainage. The plants readily self-sow so deadhead quickly if you don’t want new plants. Use colorful columbine in beds, rock gardens, containers, cutting gardens, woodlands and to attract hummingbirds. They are also food plants for many species of butterflies and moths.

Characteristics

  • Plant Type

    Perennial

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Spring, Late Spring, Early Summer

  • Native To

    North America, Europe, Russia/Siberia, Asia

Growing Conditions

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Light Green, Sea Green, Gray Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Light Green, Sea Green, Gray Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green, Light Green, Sea Green, Gray Green, Yellow Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Alpine, Mixed Border, Rock Garden / Wall, Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Hummingbirds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes