As perennial garden beds begin to wake up and glow with early season color, spring bloomers are a sure sign that spring is here, and summer is not far behind. A staple spring appearance, Aquilegia (a-kwi-LEE-jee-a), or Columbine, is a delicate yet showy bloomer with complex flowers of many shapes and colors. There are numerous species and cultivars of Aquilegia, native to many areas of Europe and North America, including Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine, with its soft red and yellow lantern-like blooms native to eastern North America including right here in Minnesota.
With delicate, lacy green foliage emerging early in the year, Aquilegia, of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, mature to 24-36" tall and 18-24" wide when blooming, depending on variety. Columbine will tolerate full sun but prefer rich, moist, well-drained soils in areas where plants receive morning light but are shaded from hot afternoon sun. Columbine are excellent plants for areas with abundant wildlife, as they are both deer and rabbit resistant, while still attracting scores of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees to their nectar-filled flower spurs. Flowering from early spring to late spring in numerous shapes and structures, as single or double, short-spurred or spurless flowers, Aquilegia is available in a myriad of colors including the soft blue and white of ‘Kirigami Blue and White,’ the striking red of ‘Winky Red and White,’ and the cheerful yellow of ‘Kirigami Yellow’ Columbine.
Over time, Columbine will gently spread in the garden by seed. To avoid spread, remove blooms after flowering to maintain tidy plantings, or allow seedheads to remain and develop a healthy stand of Aquilegia. Columbine is a wonderful plant sure to spruce up any cottage garden, woodland garden, or perennial border.