Dictionary of Flowers: Aquilegia (Columbine)

Aquilegia, or Columbine, are best-known as beautiful blue star-shaped blooms. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Ali Graney and Flickr
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Aquilegia, or Columbine, are best-known as beautiful blue star-shaped blooms. They look great in containers! Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Ali Graney and Flickr

  • Aquilegia
  • Common name: columbine
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Category: Perennial in USDA zones 4-7
  • Height: 8” to 36”
  • Width: up to 18"
  • Sun/part shade
  • Blooms: late spring to early summer
  • Attracts: birds, hummingbirds
  • Growth habit: upright, bushy. Use as filler in containers
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: average to fertile, loose, well drained. 
  • Garden uses: mixed border, garden beds, containers, edging plants, woodland gardens, rock gardens
  • Diseases: mildew, rot, blight
  • Pests: aphids, leaf miners, mites

Aquilegia is a versatile perennial that works well in the late spring garden. There are many species and varieties available in colors ranging from white to yellow, pinks and reds, blue and purple and bicolors.

Some species have bell like flowers with five sepals facing forward and spurs behind. Other species have double flowers. The blooms appear on thin stems from a rosette of basal green leaves.

Some columbine have nodding flowers while others have more upright blooms. 

Plant columbine in large drifts of three or more plants.

Plant in average to fertile soil with good drainage in sun or part shade. Plants in full sun will require more frequent watering during summer months. Columbine's long taproot makes it a somewhat drought tolerant plant once it is established.

Though short lived, columbine is easy to grow from seed. Sow seed outdoors (winter sowing works well), or just about any time of the year after giving the seeds a two or three weeks cold stratification period in the refrigerator.

Even in their dying-off phase, Columbine flowers are lovely. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Hec Tate and Flickr
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Even in their dying-off phase, Columbine flowers are lovely. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Hec Tate and Flickr

Transplant to their spot in the garden after true leaves appear, being careful not to damage the roots. If grown from seed, it will take two seasons for the plants to produce flowers.

Columbine cross-pollinates easily, so it is best to purchase commercial seed, since most often seedlings grown from collected seed don't come true to the parent plant unless it has been isolated from other columbines of different species.

Deadhead plants after bloom to avoid self-seeding and to preserve plant strength. Plants that are not deadheaded don't last as long.

Columbine's main pest problems are leaf miners. Damage to the plant is easily noticed, as they dig tunnels inside the leaves, making light colored "doodle marks". Remove all damaged foliage and discard. If the problem is severe, treat with insecticidal soap.

Columbine buds often times attract aphids. Remove with a blast of water from hose or use insecticidal soap. If a more natural approach is desired, use ladybugs to keep aphids in check.

Aquilegia peeping through the side of a container. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Klasse im Garten and Flickr
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Aquilegia peeping through the side of a container. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Klasse im Garten and Flickr

Mildew can appear if the plants are stressed or if there isn't enough air circulation between plants. Correct the situation and remove damaged foliage. Discard, do not compost. Good drainage will keep rot from happening. Treat blight with an antifungal remedy.

Popular varieties:

  • Aquilegia caerulea, Rocky Mountain columbine - short species with blue and white upward facing flowers
  • Aquilegia canadiensis, wild columbine - Up to three feet tall, red and yellow flowers
  • Aquilegia chrysantha, golden columbine - tall species, up to three feet with yellow long spurred flowers
  • Aquilegia hybrids 'Mckana' - large flowered hybrid with bi-colored flowers in red, blue, pink and yellow with white
  • Aquilegia hybrids 'Bierdemeier' - a short columbine species suitable for growing in containers. Grows up to 18" and blooms in pink, blue, purple and white with up- facing flowers
  • Aquilegia vulgaris 'Nora Barlow' - double, spurless columbine with pink and white flowers, about two feet tall
  • Aquilegia vulgaris 'Ruby Port' - double, spurless, with burgundy red flowers
  • Aquilegia vulgaris 'Clementine' series - double blooms, spurless, upward facing beautiful flowers that resemble double clematis in shades of pink, blue, purple and white
Enjoy Columbine while their unnatural beauty lasts. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Jacki-Dee and Flickr
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Enjoy Columbine while their unnatural beauty lasts. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Jacki-Dee and Flickr

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Annuals For Containers

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