The scientific name of Columbine flowers is Aquilegia. They belong to the buttercup family, falling under the genus that consists of about 60 to 70 species. They are herbaceous perennials that are found in woodlands, meadows, and in regions at higher altitudes all over the Northern Hemisphere known for the spurred petals of their flowers. The word Aquilegia is derived from a Latin word aquilia which means eagle. These plants are named so because of their flower petals which resemble an eagle’s claw. The petals of Columbine flowers are spurred, which is the major characteristic that sets Columbine flowers apart. Columbine, which is the common name, is derived from the Latin word for ‘dove.’ They are called so because an inverted Columbine flower resembles a cluster of 5 doves.
Columbine flowers are highly effective in attracting hummingbirds that make them a favorite of birdwatchers. They have beautiful, bell-shaped flowers that make them excellent garden flowers. Columbine flowers bloom from mid-spring till early-summer. Columbine plants are short-lived, living up to 2 to 3 years only. However, these plants produce seeds prolifically and often persist in gardens. There are numerous types of Columbine. A number of colorful hybrids have been developed as well. The colors of Columbine flowers range from light pastel to bright red and orange to yellow and purple. The foliage of Columbine plants has a lacey appearance, making them a very attractive plant type for the garden.
Table of Contents
1 - 3 feet
1 - 2 feet
6.0 - 8.0
Types of Columbine
A. vulgaris var. stellata Barlow Mix is a lighthearted pink, purple, red, white, and bicolor take on the darkly delicious 'Black Barlow'. The Barlow series features spurless, double blossoms that bob like confetti with their faces turned upward toward warm breezes.
Aquilegia ‘Biedermeier’ brings more guests to the celebration with a mix of whites, reds, purples, pinks, and bicolor blooms in pastel hues that cool and refresh like sherbet on a summer afternoon. At 12 to 18 inches tall, they mix and mingle amiably in mid-story placements, flaunting their long, curvaceous spurs like proud peacocks.
A. vulgaris var. stellata ‘Black Barlow’ is a cultivar in the Barlow series. It has no spurs and faces upward to show off two full rows of velvety petals in a shade of maroon so dark it verges on black.
A. flabellata ‘Blackcurrant Ice’ flits and flutters onto the springtime scene in a simple skirt of five mauve sepals accented by short spurs surrounding a center corolla of creamy yellow.
With five baby blue sepals, short spurs, and a crisp white center corolla, its new suit is becoming as it casts a shy eye upward. Tall for a youngster, it’s sure to be the apple of your eye at a height of 24 to 32 inches.
Standing at attention, A. caerulea ‘Blue Star’ boasts five sepals in a regal shade of purplish blue, calling out, “Strike up the band!” White corollas and short spurs make for smart attire. At heights of 24 to 32 inches, it marches majestically into spring.
Like reveling woodland fairies, A. flabellata Cameo series blossoms bob their pastel blue, pink, and white heads, with spurs curled for the occasion. Their dainty sepals ensconce miniature corollas of glimmering white. At six to eight inches tall, these tiny merrymakers may bless you with a fairy ring before they depart.
Understated A. viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier,’ aka green columbine, doesn’t raise its head to reveal its position. At a height of nine to 12 inches, its stature and coloration may remind you of a hellebore, another early-season bloomer.
Like a wild cornflower beside a county road, unassuming A. vulgaris ‘Clementine Blue’ is clad in fully double lavender-blue petals that blush to rose at the tips at the mere mention of its charms. At a modest 14 to 16 inches tall, this carefree springtime wanderer is a pleasing addition to walkways leading home.
The fully double petals of A. vulgaris ‘Clementine Red’, are bright pink and unspurred, for a starlike quality reminiscent of a summer strawflower. Perched atop stems 14 to 16 inches tall, they command the attention of returning robins, awakening woodland creatures – and passersby – as they proclaim spring’s glorious return.
A. vulgaris ‘Clementine Rose’ wows audiences of her own with unspurred pink, fully double petals for a subtler spring display. Also ranging from 14 to 16 inches in height.
A. x hybrida ‘Crimson Star’ is radiant with red sepals, jutting spurs, and snowy corollas that bring to mind star-topped trees of the festive season. And while spring may have sprung, these 24- to 32-inch red and white wonders smile up at us with a reminder that it’s always time to celebrate.
Like a pinpoint of light in a black velvet sky, A. x hybrida ‘Crystal Star’ embodies the mystery and wonder of the earth’s spring rebirth with its single row of creamy white sepals, matching centers, and mauve-tinged spurs. From an elevation of 24 to 32 inches, this luminous marvel captivates all with its steadfast upward gaze.
Like a full-bodied Zinfandel, dark columbine, A. atrata, is an Alpine native with wine-colored sepals, curled spurs, and a matching corolla for a toothsome addition to the garden table. At 18 to 24 inches tall, it pairs well with hearty fare – like robust yellow early tulips and daffodils.
Like an undulating dragon in a Chinese New Year parade, A. caerulea ‘Dragonfly’ Mix brings a sparkling extravaganza. From pinks and reds to purples, whites, yellows, and bicolors, the finely honed spurs bob playfully on faces raised skyward. At a height of 18 to 24 inches, this cacophony of color happily wends its way around the landscape with great aplomb.
Precociously purple, A. vulgaris ‘Dwarf,’ aka European columbine, is a richly color-saturated tour de force, from its luxurious tendrils to its sepals and corona.
Earlybird Purple and White
Bright-eyed Aquilegia Earlybird™ ‘Purple and White’ presents like a posy fresh for gathering. Pinkish-purple sepals and spurs light up white corollas, casting upturned faces in a lavender glow. At 14 to 20 inches tall, it is a delightfully conspicuous invitation to revel in the joys of the season.
Eastern red or A. canadensis, aka wild columbine, has red nodding heads comprised of a single row of sepals and short spurs that enclose a yellow corolla. At two to three feet tall, it’s a substantial winter send-off.
Fragrant columbine, A. fragrans, is a Himalayan species with sepals, short curled spurs, and a corolla cloaked in white and infused with lavender, for an ethereal visage. At 12 to 18 inches tall, it can’t be a figment of any gardener’s imagination, but the honeysuckle-like fragrance is definitely the stuff dreams are made of.
Golden columbine, A. chrysantha, aka golden spur columbine, is a North American native. With pale yellow sepals, long spurs, and slightly brighter yellow corollas, this wildflower faces upward like a rare bird preparing for flight.
With a fully double, unspurred flower that is comparable to a clematis, A. vulgaris var. stellata ‘Green Apples’ has a softly sophisticated aura. Without the ado of brighter hues, it subtly shades from pale green to white, as smoothly as slipping off a silk scarf. At a height of 18 to 32 inches, it is both graceful and awe-inspiring, a gentle contrast to bolder tones in proximity.
If you’d like to plant a native species like Eastern red columbine but don’t relish the look of the small flowers on tall stems, A. canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’ offers an alternative. With the classic red and yellow, lantern-like flowers, and a height of only 10 to 12 inches, this well-proportioned, compact cultivar is destined for a bright future in the garden.
McKana Giant Mix
Bi-colored flowers with long spurs in shades of blue and white, red and yellow, and combinations of pink and purple. The plants are tall, up to 30 inches.
A. vulgaris var. stellata ‘Nora Barlow’ looks upward in anticipation of the appreciation of passersby. Adorned for a debut in fully double pink, unspurred petals with a hint of green at the tips, it is a vision of loveliness. Like its Barlow series siblings, it’s tall and shapely at 24 to 30 inches, and a diva on the garden runway.
One glance at A. vulgaris ‘Pink Petticoat’ and you’ll wonder if you should avert your eyes, for surely Little Bo Peep has hung her bloomers out to dry. The nodding heads consist of unspurred mauve sepals and dense layers of rounded petals that are white at the tips, like a pair of the fairy tale shepherdess’ finest unmentionables.
Aquilegia ‘Red Hobbit’ is a smaller version of 24- to 32-inch ‘Crimson Star,’ with the same spurred red sepals and white corolla reminiscent of Christmases past. Topping out at a modest 12 to 14 inches, this brightly colored cultivar eschews the fanfare of the merry season, opting instead for a quiet life among the gnomes and other whimsical friends found in many a well-appointed garden.
Rocky Mountain Blue
North American native Rocky Mountain blue, A. coerulea, aka Colorado blue columbine, is an heirloom species with a rich and rugged heritage of camping out beneath starry skies. Its white corolla sits tall in the saddle atop light purple sepals and spurs any wrangler would be proud to don. The stuff of legends, this is native columbine at its best. At heights of 12 to 24 inches, this rough rider needs room to roam.
With its buttery sepals, spurs, and fully double corolla, Aquilegia x caerulea ‘Sunshine’ faces upward, and basks blissfully in golden light. At a height of 18 to 24 inches, it plays well with fellow yellows, daffodil and forsythia.
Swan Burgundy and White
It’s a night at the opera for dashing Aquilegia Swan ‘Burgundy and White.’ Facing confidently upward and clad in burgundy velvet with a freshly pressed corolla of white, it is a pillar of the flora community. At 18 to 24 inches tall, it is reserved yet resplendent in its attire and deportment.
Swan Pink and Yellow
Also in the Swan series, the pastel shades of Aquilegia Swan ‘Pink and Yellow’ whisper of hatching chicks and a stealthy Easter bunny filling baskets in the soft dawn light. An upward-turned face, coral pink sepals dipped ever so lightly in cream, slender spurs, and coordinating cream centers make for a sweet confection. Gracing outdoor spaces with its 18- to 24-inch stems, this swan recalls no ugly duckling days.
This long-spurred North American wildflower has sepals and spurs of blue, purple, or white, with white corollas. At two to 12 inches tall, it teases passersby, enticing them to bend on one knee to discover its true identity.
Dressed to the nines, dapper A. vulgaris ‘William Guiness’ is clothed in maroon sepals with trim spurs and a corolla of finest white. At a height of 24 to 30 inches tall, it is head and shoulders above the crowd at all times and in all places.
Winky Double Red and White
A. vulgaris Winky ‘Double Red and White’ is as wholesome as a slice of apple pie on the front porch on a Sunday afternoon. Deep red sepals with quaintly curled spurs and fully double white corollas remind one of a window box full of smart pink, red, and white geraniums.
Winky Double Rose White
A single row of pink sepals is the backdrop for a corolla filled to the brim with ruffled white petals that blush pink. At 12 to 14 inches tall, these flouncy little darlings are the perfect understory companion for ornamental cherry and plum blossoms above.
Columbines grow well in sun or light shade. Prepare the bed with well-draining soil of average fertility.
When to Plant Columbine
Sow columbine seeds directly into the ground in the spring. Allow the plant to self-seed after it blooms and it will produce many volunteer seedlings in the following year.
Alternatively, sow seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost.
How to Plant Columbine
Press the seed into the soil, but do not cover it.
Thin to the strongest plants.
If setting a mature plant into a container, create a hole twice the diameter of the “old” pot. Set the top of the root ball level with the soil surface. Fill in with soil, then tamp gently, and water.
Outdoors, space mature plants 1 to 2 feet apart, depending on mature size of the variety. Water thoroughly.
How to Get Columbine to Bloom
Columbine plants bloom in mid-spring to early summer. Most columbine varieties have little to no scent, but Rocky Mountain columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) has a distinctive sweet smell. You can extend columbine's bloom period by pinching spent flowers back to just above a bud. If you do not deadhead spent blooms, the resulting seed production takes energy away from the plants. Columbine sown in spring will not bloom the first year; however, plants started in fall will bloom the following spring.
Columbines are great re-seeders. Many gardeners save money by starting the plants from seed rather than buying them at the nursery in pots (although you will have to wait a year for flowers). Not deadheading will result in plenty of self-sown replacements.
These plants do not tolerate hot, full sun well; they decline in the summer. They prefer medium moisture, well-drained soil. However, once established, columbine plants are drought-tolerant perennials. These plants are perfect for rock gardens and woodland gardens. Their attractive foliage makes them suitable as edging plants, and they are also frequently used in cottage gardens.
Partial shade is the standard recommendation for growing columbine, but this plant tolerates full sun in cooler climates and during cool spring days.
Grow columbine plants in well-drained humusy soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. Mix some compost into the soil before planting to provide them with rich organic material. They prefer sandy or loamy soil over clay because good drainage is key.
Columbine requires moderate soil moisture, so apply water when the top inch or two of soil dries out. As young plants are becoming established, keep the soil evenly moist but never soggy. Established plants only need watering about once a week. Mulch the plants to conserve water in the summer.
Temperature and Humidity
Columbines are perennial in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8, but choose a variety that's well-suited for your specific climate. The plants flower best in cooler temperatures. They don't tolerate excessive heat.
Use a liquid, water-soluble fertilizer once a month during the growing season (spring to fall) to promote healthy foliage and better blooming. This plant requires phosphorus for healthy root development. Fertilizer too high in nitrogen can affect flower production; try using 5-10-5 NPK fertilizer, which is boosted in phosphorus.
Pruning and Propagating Columbine
Prune columbine plants back to their healthy base leaves just after blooming. Doing so might promote a second set of stem growth within a few weeks enabling you to enjoy another wave of blooms later in the season. Columbines can be cut back to about one-half of their height after flowering to keep the plant attractive and green for the remainder of the summer.
Columbine is best propagated by sowing seeds or by division. Columbine seeds can be directly sown in the garden in early spring or summer.
Columbine can be divided in the spring, once every two or three years. A divided plant remains vibrant and vigorous for many years. Columbine has deep roots, so if you must divide it, dig down deeply. Here's how to propagate by division:
You'll need a shovel or spade and a sharp knife.
With a spade or shovel, deeply dig in a circle around the plant to loosen up the plant from the ground.
Lift the plant out of the ground being careful not to break up the soil around the root system.
Work fast to divide and re-plant: divide the plant as quickly as you can with a sharp, sterilized knife. Try not to dislodge soil around the roots.
Replant one division into the same planting hole and backfill the hole with well-draining soil.
Potting and Repotting Columbine
Plant each seedling in a medium-sized (ten inch) container. Container material can be plastic, clay, wood, or stone, but ensure the container has drainage holes at the bottom. Fill each container with good quality, well-draining potting soil.
Columbines can withstand cold temperatures. At the end of their growing season, remove any wilted columbine foliage and cut columbine stalks to the ground. Flower stalks will regrow next spring, along with any new plants that successfully self-seeded. For extra protection from winter temperatures, scatter a light layer of mulch or decaying leaves around the plant crown.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Columbine foliage often bears the "doodling" of leaf miners, but the damage usually is not serious and gives the foliage a sort of randomly "variegated" look that can be appealing to some gardeners. Keep an eye out for the first signs of doodling, inspect the leaves for the larvae, and crush them with your fingers. You can also handpick leaves at the first sign of mining activity.
Other common pests include columbine sawflies and columbine aphids. Aphids can cause stunted growth while sawflies cause defoliation. To control aphids and sawflies, you can spray with ultra-fine horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.
Fungal diseases like gray mold and powdery mildew can affect columbine. Remove faded flowers to control gray mold from developing. If symptoms like a fuzzy gray mold or white mildew starts forming, apply a fungicide to control it.
Common Problems With Columbine
Columbine plants can be grown in a range of climates and are easy to grow in a home garden. Like any garden plant, they are susceptible to a few problems, such as insect activity and fungal infections.
In areas with hot or dry summers, columbine leaves can turn yellow. If you keep the soil evenly moist, the plant might sustain itself. But if heat turns the leaves yellow or the plant dies down, cut the plant to its basal leaves. The plant is not dead. It might not come back until the next spring, but sometimes it can re-emerge in the early fall.
Leaves Turning White
Powdery mildew creates white powdery patches on the leaves. It can take over an entire plant, mainly during periods of high humidity when temperatures are warm and nights cool down. The fungus spreads through splashing water and travel by wind to infect other plants. Once established, powdery mildew is difficult to control. Treat an infected plant with a fungicide as soon as you notice symptoms; be sure to read instructions on the product label for proper application methods.
One day you can have a full columbine plant, and the next, the leaves are gone. This defoliation is a sign of a slug infestation. Slugs come out at night. Put out bait such as a pan of beer or an upside-down melon rind. The slugs will be attracted to both. They'll drown in the beer, and you can dispose of the slug-infested melon rind. You can also spread diatomaceous earth around the base of the plant. The slugs will not cross that barrier.
Benefits of Columbine
For thousands of years, columbine has been used by the indigenous populations of North America and Europeto treat a variety of skin conditions. You can crush the seeds or roots and combine them with water to create a paste or salve that can be placed directly on rashes and irritation. The anti-inflammatory nature of columbine helps to reduce the irritation and redness of these affected areas. It is also effective for mild acne, and poison ivy, as well as other plant-derived rashes.
Columbine also works as an effective pain reliever on various parts of the body. The same sort of paste can be applied to bruises and strained muscles to reduce aches and pains , as a result of the same anti-inflammatory compounds found in the roots and seeds. Lotions made from the crushed root and the extracted oils is very popular for rheumatic pains as people age. Those suffering from arthiritis can use these herbal lotions to significantly reduce their discomfort. Using columbine on open wounds is discouraged, as the toxicity could negatively affect the body if it gets into the bloodstream.
One of the most popular uses of columbine has been in the reduction of headaches. Using tiny amounts of crushed seeds and often mixing them with wine or water, headaches can quickly be relieved. Again, the seeds contain toxic substances, so very small amounts are necessary for this treatment, and consulting an herbalist is highly recommended.
Crushing the roots and mixing them with water has also been used as a treatment for certain respiratory problems, including congestion and sore throats. By eliminating the inflammation of the respiratory tracts, columbine can help to speed up the healing process, reduce irritation, and eliminate congestion, which prevents further illness or infection from bacteria in the phlegm and sputum.
Detoxify the Body
Columbine has long been used to stimulate perspiration, and is known traditionally as an effective remedy to break a fever. If you mix the flowers with water and drink this mixture, fevers can be rapidly eliminated. This same property also induces urination, so its role as a diuretic makes it valuable for detoxifying the body. By stimulating the elimination of excess toxins, salts, fats, and water, columbine helps relieve pressure on the kidneys and liver.
If the roots are prepared correctly, they can be consumed as a tonic for the stomach, as it can ease inflammation and irritation in the bowels that causes diarrhea and symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). It should be consumed in small quantities and prepared by a trained herbalist.
The effects of columbine on women have been known for generations. A small tincture can be used to induce labor in pregnancy, and its properties as a coagulant and astringent can help to reduce bleeding after delivery. Also, columbine is used by many herbal practitioners to lessen menstrual bleeding and reduce some of the discomfort and symptoms associated with menstruation.
A Final Word of Warning: As mentioned in this article, columbine is a poisonous flower, so despite all of the health benefits we’ve just explained, you should not try to create decoctions, tinctures, or salves without proper training or consultation with an herbalist or traditional practitioner. Before adding any powerful herbal remedy to your health regiment, always consult a medical professional.
Columbine flowers are generally only used for landscaping and as cut flowers since they are toxic.
Bees and butterflies love the single-flowering varieties of these plants since the deep cups make plenty of attractive nectar. Scented varieties are the most attractive to pollinators.