Native Plant Profile: Red Columbine

You can’t miss this native spring-blooming wildflower: its 2-3 foot slender stems are topped with brightly colored nodding flowers.

One of the first native wildflowers I stopped to admire and identify decades ago was the elegant red columbine (Aquilegia formosa var. formosa). You can’t miss this native spring-blooming wildflower: its 2-3 foot slender stems are topped with brightly colored nodding flowers.

Red columbine is Such a photogenic flower!
Such a photogenic flower! (Image: SK)

Red columbine (AKA western columbine) is a native wildflower throughout western North America, from Alaska to California and east to Wyoming. It grows in lower elevations but has adapted to moderate levels of mountain habitat. Its preferred growing conditions are open forests with filtered sun and moist but well-drained soil.

Body contortion was required for this photo!
Body contortion was required for this photo! (Image: SK)

A member of the Ranunculaceae family, red columbine is a short-lived perennial that self-sows if allowed to go to seed. Blooming from May through August, the bright red parts of the flower are actually their sepals and the yellow parts are the petals. Predictably, those flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths but deer and rabbits are not impressed and ignore them under normal circumstances.

Nice outfit: Red sepals, yellow/red petals, many yellow stamen, and red spurs
Nice outfit: Red sepals, yellow/red petals, many yellow stamens & red spurs (Image: SK)

Red Columbine In the Garden

Easy to grow in a cultivated garden, the fast-growing red columbine does well in hardiness zones 3-9, ideally in partial shade but will grow in full sun if additional watering is provided. When I lived on the west side of the Cascades, I tucked several columbines into a native layer of ferns under some tall conifers. I wish I had thought to take some photos of that classic PNW planting.  The flowers form seed capsules which make seed collection easy to do and distribute to other parts of your garden. 

Delicate looking red columbine nodding flowers
Delicate looking nodding flowers (Image: SK)

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