Columbine Are Like Candy

So we all agree that wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), also called red columbine, is the most beautiful perennial flower for shade, right? Exactly.

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Columbine in the front foundation bed.

A friend of mine likes to say that columbine are like candy, you can never have enough. Certainly A. canadensis, native to North America east of the Rockies, is a sweet wildflower. The dangling red and yellow blooms put me in mind of colorful chandeliers.

In a moist, partly shady spot wild columbine will grow to substantial plants, in my garden about two feet high and three feet wide. The blue-green foliage is very attractive, and makes a nice groundcover after spring bloom is done if the soil is sufficiently moist.

Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
A closer look.

A. canadensis is much less common in garden centers than the exotic species and cultivars. That is unfortunate because in addition to being native, A. canadensis is much more resistant to leaf miner, an insect pest that disfigures many columbines.

Columbines are a bit unpredictable, which is part of their charm. Individual plants may not be long lived, but they will self-sow. Once you have columbines, your are likely to continue to have them into the foreseeable future. Even so, seedlings are easy to pull out or transplant.

Columbine, wild geranium, golden alexander
Columbine with wild geranium and golden alexander.

They do tend to pop up in some inconvenient spots. For example, there is one growing between pavers on the path into the back garden. Eventually it will have to come out or be run over by the wheelbarrow. For now, however, I do not have the heart to remove it.

Wild Columbine

Columbine are supposed to be attractive to hummingbirds, but I have never seen hummers feed on this flower in my own garden. The bees do like them.

One problem that occurs with columbine here is that they tend to bloom at the same time that cottonwood trees are dropping their fluff. The fluff gets stuck in and on the flower and at least partially ruins their appearance. This year it has not happened, I’m happy to say, perhaps because the unusual weather has thrown off the cottonwood/columbine synchronicity.

Do you grow columbine in your garden?



36 Comments on “Columbine Are Like Candy”

  1. I have an area full of columbine of varying colors but mine prefer drier shade. Leaf miners devour them every year, which drives me nuts. I used to have the little red natives but swapped them with a friend and now I miss them. I never see hummers at my columbine, either.

  2. They look beautiful and seem to have put on a good show this year. Are they always so reliable? I grow Aquilegia vulgaris in purple, pink and white and they also spread everywhere! Mostly they love a really sunny position though, and are extremely drought-resistant. I agree, you can never have enough of them. They add height and colour and need virtually no care!

  3. It grows itself and so far, I’ve allowed this benign neglect. It has also crossed with the purple shades for me. I’m not sure which of the parents think this has resulted in trashy offspring, sort of a pink, but with leaves more the color of the native, and decidedly more its thinner, airier form particularly in its flower.

  4. I’ll have to try columbine again here. I tried it once, several years ago, and I think the woodchucks ate it. However, lots of local people have told me they have good luck with it. Also, we do see it occur naturally in wooded areas, which would indicate the deer and chucks don’t bother it. It reminds me of my father, who took seeds from wild plants in the woods when I was a child and planted them alongside our house, where they put on a stunning display each spring.

  5. I think the native red columbines are the nicest, but you are right, they are hard to find, with mostly exotic hybrids for sale. I tried several different hybrid colors, and of course they seeded around and all came up purple! I want to try the wild red ones — your pictures show such big, healthy, pretty clumps.

  6. I have lots of columbines in my garden including canadensis. I also have some barlows, mckanas (my favourite) and new this year grown from seed last year viridiflora which are also called chocolate soliders. These last one are very pretty but I need to rethink where they are as the dark flowers don’t show up very well

  7. Hi Jason, I really like Aquilegia, they’re so easy to grow from seed and low maintenance once they get going. The ones I have are a smaller, more compact form than the ones you have. They grow as a small dense mound of leaves with the flowers held aloft on strong slender stems above them. The bees seem to like them. While the seed pack said they would be all blue, we’ve got all sorts of colours with singles and doubles. A they’re a real treat.

  8. Oh Yes, I have columbine in my garden. But I didn’t plant them; they were here before. And they are the cultivars though extremely beautiful. I love these delicate flowers. They indeed look like candy — those pumpkin candy (red-yellow, tastes so nice) small candies (what are they called) that you find everywhere during Halloween.

  9. I don’t have columbines in my garden, but I am always on the look-out for suitable plants for my woodland area. Only thing is, the area is rather full by now so if I am to squeeze in any more plants they should really be quite small and dainty…
    But your photos are lovely so maybe I should look into this one 🙂

  10. I completely agree with you, columbine are lovely and cheery and hardy as long as you let them grow where they like, but I guess a lot of plants fall into that category. I love their ethereal quality, very wispy and breezy. They are definitely one of my favourite flowers 🙂 and I love the colour of yours.

  11. I have many different columbines, and new exciting ones each year. They do tend to sow themselves a bit too much, but are easy to pull up. I really like to see what new specimens the bees have made each year.

  12. Yep, I’ve got two red varieties. At Longwood Gardens they have a section of the most beautiful colored columbine that is not available to the public, I so wanted them. They had two gardeners painstakingly dead heading them. I could see that their only job of the day there was so many of them.

  13. Very pretty. I grew A. canadensis ‘Tequila Sunrise’ from seed last year, which should flower for the first time soon. I’m looking forward to seeing how they perform; they are very different in shape and colour from our European ones.

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