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Columbine Flowers

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Picture of yellow columbine flower.

Picture of yellow columbine flower.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Columbine Flowers:

Plant taxonomy classifies columbine plants, in general, as Aquilegia. For instance, Aquilegia canadensis is the red columbine.

Plant Type:

Columbine plants are herbaceous flowering perennials.

Facts About Columbine Plants:

Columbines come in many colors; some are even bi-colored. These perennials can have red, yellow, white, blue, pink or purple blossoms. They are airy plants with attractive foliage (clover-like when young), reaching ca. 2 feet in height (taller when in full bloom). Columbine plants bloom in late spring to early summer and self-seed readily if you don't deadhead (see below under Care).

Planting Zones for Columbine Flowers:

Grow columbine plants in planting zones 3-9. There are columbine flowers native to many lands. Aquilegia canadensis, for instance, indigenous to the woods of eastern North America, is a wildflower often remarked upon by hikers for its bluish-green foliage.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

There are plenty of exceptions, but "partial shade" is the standard recommendation for columbine plants. Grow them in a well-drained soil. Often dwelling on rocky ledges in the wild, the drought resistance displayed by such columbine flowers as Aquilegia canadensis make them good candidates for xeriscaping.

Outstanding Characteristic of Columbine Flowers:

As stated above, columbine flowers come in a number of colors. But of equal value is the exquisite shape of columbine flowers. Besides their trademark "spurs" and often showy stamens, columbine flowers nod, and their centers sometimes take on a honeycomb look (for an example of which, click "More Images" under the picture, above right, to access the mini-photo gallery).

Uses in Landscaping:

Once established, columbine plants are drought-tolerant perennials. This makes them perfect for rock gardens or woodland gardens. Their attractive foliage suits them to use as edging plants.

Columbine flowers are said to resemble jester's caps, and their effectiveness at attracting hummingbirds will certainly put bird watchers in a merry mood.

Problems:

The leaves of columbine plants often bear the "doodling" of leaf miners, but the damage usually isn't serious and gives the foliage a sort of randomly "variegated" look that I rather like.

Care for Columbine Plants:

Care for these perennials largely comes down to the question, "To deadhead or not to deadhead?" If you don't deadhead, the resulting seed production will sap the strength of your columbine plants, and they will decline and die out in about 3 years. But here's the tradeoff: columbine flowers are prolific re-seeders, so not deadheading will result in plenty of replacements.

Interesting Facts: Origin of the Common Name, Latin Name:

The scientific name, Aquilegia (the genus name) derives from the Latin word for eagle, Aquila. Just look at columbine flowers close up and you may understand this word origin: their spur-like appendages can remind one of the outstretched talons of an eagle or hawk.

The hawkish origin of the scientific name is, however, somewhat at odds with the derivation of "columbine" (from the Latin, columba), which refers to doves. Apparently, some find a resemblance in the inverted columbine flower to five doves nestled together. For what it's worth, columbine flowers look more aquiline than dovish, to me.

Need more choices for partially shady locations? See my article on the Best Perennials for Shade.

Related Video
How to Dry Flowers
How to Deadhead Flowers
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