Come on by for Columbines!

The red-and-yellow flowers of Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) are a-bloom in the nursery and in my yard. Earlier this spring, we discovered that many of our “Western Columbines” were imposters—hybrids with pink, purple and maroon flowers. Different species of columbines freely hybridize with each other (Brian* accuses them of being promiscuous) and undoubtedly, the seeds these sprouted from were off the native which had cross-pollinated with the neighborhood hussies. Shocking behavior! We sold some before we recognized that we had a ‘situation’; if you wound up with a non-native, we will happily replace it or otherwise make it right.

Western Columbine’s exotic flowers dangle from drooping stems like lanterns illuminating the garden. The blossoms stand higher than the foliage, up to 3 ½’ high. Western Columbines do well in full sun to partial shade and thrive in soil that is a little bit moist. Planted in compacted soil, a grouping of columbines—which have strong taproots—can help break up the soil, making it more friable.*

Aquilegia Formosa

Western Columbine (Aquilegia Formosa)

Columbines are perennial, dying back in the fall, re-sprouting in late winter, and bloom most profusely in spring and sporadically through the summer. Hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies come to the Western Columbine flowers for nectar, and birds such as finches, juncos and sparrows eat the seeds. Supposedly, the presence of Western Columbine will discourage deer from browsing (I think I will try that!).

One of the few orangey-colored flowers native in our area, Western Columbine is showy all by itself. But interplant it with other spring-blooming native perennials that appreciate similar conditions—for example, purple-flowered Big-leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) and Showy Fleabane (Erigeron speciosus), creamy-flowered Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), pink Henderson’s Checkermallow (Sidalcea hendersonii)—and you’ll have a stunning spectacle, reminiscent of an alpine meadow.

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