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Aquilegia canadensis

Native Plants

Wild Columbine

2 Photos


Although short-lived, wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is an adaptable herbaceous perennial that grows in a variety of conditions from woodlands to rocky cliffs. Preferring part shade in moist, fertile, well-draining soils, it will take full shade, and with adequate moisture will take full sun. It will also perform well in dry, rocky or sandy soils, as good drainage is essential. Overly rich soils produce weaker plants that are even shorter lived. Where happy, it self-seeds freely and this is how it maintains a continuous presence in the garden. Spent blooms can be removed if self-seeding is a concern.  

Foliage and flowering stems arise from a stout rootstock. The basal foliage is long-stemmed, blue green in color, with each leaflet being three-lobed and ternately compound (groups of 3), giving it a bold, lacey appearance. In April to May, multiple branching flower stems ascend from the center of the plant and can reach 3’ tall. Each stem displays a single or group of 1-2” long, red and yellow, five-spurred, jester cap-like flowers that dangle from a sturdy, wiry stem. The spurs are nectaries that attract bumblebees, long-tongued bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  

Once flowering has stopped, remove flower stems for an attractive ground cover. If plants are in a sunny location maintaining even soil moisture will aid in keeping the foliage attractive. When foliage begins to pale it can be cut back to ground level, sometimes it will refresh.  

Wild columbine will naturalize in favorable conditions and is at home in a woodland garden, offering early spring color and texture. Combine with wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) or southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) for an interplay of foliage. Scatter throughout a planting combination of foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), and three-leaf stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) to create an intriguing tapestry-like display. Plants are mostly ignored by deer and rabbits due to toxins in the leaves. Wild columbine is a larval host for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly, and the seed is eaten by finches and buntings. Zones 3-8. 

More Details

  • Plant Type
  • Sun/Shade Conditions
  • Foliage Character
  • Soil Moisture
  • Flowering Period
  • Soil PH
  • Flower Color
    bicolor, red, yellow 
  • Summer Foliage Color
  • Fall Foliage Color
  • Fruit/Seed Color
    green, tan