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What is a Rocky Mountain Columbine?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet

The Rocky Mountain columbine, also known by its scientific name Aquilegia caerulea, is a perennial flowering plant native to the mountain states of the western US. It is beloved by many for its intricate lavender and white blooms, which appear each summer. Fairly adaptable to diverse soil and weather conditions, the Rocky Mountain columbine is a popular choice among gardeners who wish to beautify their landscaping and attract nectar-seeking hummingbirds and butterflies.

Wild Rocky Mountain columbine can be found throughout the mountain states of the western US, including Colorado, Montana, Arizona, and New Mexico. In fact, since 1899 the plant has been Colorado’s state flower, and in order to protect it, Colorado citizens and visitors are barred from picking more than 25 specimens in any single day. Some argue, however, that based on the description given in Colorado’s 1899 statute, the state’s flower is actually the closely-related Aquilegia saximontana, which is only found high on the state’s mountainsides.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

For many, the most noteworthy feature of the Rocky Mountain columbine is its complex blue and white blooms, which normally appear in early summer and may persist until August. These blooms consist of a yellow stamen cluster ringed by five white, rounded petals. The petals are in turn surrounded by five pointed sepals, which are usually lavender but may also be blue or white. At the rear of each sepal is a backward-pointing spur, a spike-like formation which gives the blooms a dramatic, exotic appearance. The face of the bloom generally measures from 2 to 3 inches (about 5.08 to 7.62 centimeters) in diameter.

These blooms are held up by straight, delicate stems that are usually green or brown in color. The plant’s overall height typically ranges from 1 to 2 feet (about 30.48 to 60.96 centimeters). Its green leaves are small in comparison with its blooms, and may be present at ground-level only, or may occur on the plant’s stems.

Rocky Mountain columbine is a fairly adaptable plant, and it can thrive in many different types of soil as long as it receives adequate moisture. It prefers partial shade, and can be grown from seed indoors during the winter for outdoor planting in the spring. Due to its adaptability, Rocky Mountain columbine is a popular choice among gardeners in many different regions of North America. The plant is commonly used to add a touch of delicate beauty to home and public gardens. In addition, it is sometimes cultivated for its ability to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

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      Woman with a flower