Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pin It

On the Wings of Columbine

Music Blue and White columbine
Aquilegia 'Music Blue and White'

Mention the word "columbine" and most people, unfortunately, think of the tragic 1999 shooting at a Colorado high school of the same name. That's a shame because this plant is a wonderful way to move the garden from spring into summer.

The flowers always make me think of flying. Its sepals, the colored petals in the photo above, are the wings -- when viewed from the side at least. Its spurs, the long tubes on the back of the flower, look like the tail of a bird or a comet. In fact, this plant's common name stems from the Latin word columba, or dove.

Dove columbine
Aquilegia 'Dove'

Those long tubes serve a purpose. They hold the nectar favored by pollinators such as hummingbirds and moths. In fact, one scientific study showed that the length of these tubes has changed over the years to accommodate the available pollinators!

Columbine has been around practically forever and is native to most parts of the world. The wildflower version, aquilegia canadensis, has orange/red and yellow flowers that face downward. It will easily cross-pollinate and actively self-seed although you can avoid the latter problem by deadheading the flowers once they are finished blooming.

The plant has changed a lot since its beginnings as a wildflower. Size now varies from the 10-12" of Little Lanterns, a miniature version of the wildflower,and the Winky series to the 2-3 feet of the Songbird, Music and Origami series. Colors include all shades of pink, purple, yellow and red. Some flowers, especially those of the Songbird series, face upward. There are even columbines with green and yellow marbled leaves and others with double flowers.

Aquilegia vulgaris 'Leprechan Gold' leaves
Aquilegia vulgaris 'Leprechaun Gold' with
Alchemilla mollis in the background

Cultivation is easy. This plant prefers part shade and is hardy from zones 3 to 9. It likes a rich, consistently moist soil that is well drained and blooms from late spring to early summer. My garden especially needs more columbine this year as the early, warm spring caused most of my spring bloomers to finish up early.

A note of caution: If you have a dog, it's probably best to avoid this plant. Although you will find it listed on the Internet as both dog-friendly and dog-toxic, the foliage and roots apparently are harmful if eaten. Better to be safe than sorry.

Columbine Origami Rose and White
Aquilegia 'Origami Rose and White'

Columbine (Aquilegia) Origami Yellow
Aquilegia 'Origami Yellow'

Aquilegia 'Spring Magic Rose and Ivory'
Aquilegia 'Spring Magic Rose and Ivory'

Aquilegia 'Winky Double Red and White'
Aquilegia 'Winky Double Red and White'

Do you have a favorite columbine?

By Karen Geisler


  1. Thank you for posting such lovely photos. I love my columbine, especially the two new ones cropping up along my fence--where did they come from? --Different leaves from my existing columbine! They are a cheerful sight all around Hyde Park, especially in some of the less well-tended spaces.

    1. Vicky -- It's probably a random seedling that blew in from somewhere. My mother has the same problem, but she likes the effect.

  2. I was thrilled to see these photos. I have debated about growing Columbine for years -- and this year, I took the plunge and planted seeds. I have about 12 seedlings to set out -- and I'm hoping that next spring, I will be flying!

  3. Thank you for posting to avoid these if you have a dog. My 4 month old puppy is currently in the er after having a seizure tonight because he chewed on my columbine plant. These are coming out of my backyard! Def a beautiful plant but not worth it if you have dogs.