Plants - Native Plants and Wildflowers

Natural selection: Canada columbine

Place this patriotic little plant in a woodland setting or partly shaded rocky slope.

“Those who care for bees, and love hummingbirds, should plant the graceful red-flowered Canada columbine in their garden borders.”
-Catherine Parr Traill, Canadian Wild Flowers (1868)

Canada columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Zone 3
Native from Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan

The cheerful, nodding red- or pink-and-yellow flowers of Canada columbine begin to open in late spring and continue to bloom until the heat of summer slows them down, at which point they begin to disperse their ample seed. Never invasive, in the wild, shallow-rooted Canada columbine prefers a woodland setting or partly shaded rocky slopes, so avoid planting it in rich, waterlogged soils.

Canada columbine was one of the first North American plants to be sent back to Europe, and we know that John Tradescant the Elder (d. 1638) was growing it in his Lambeth (London, England) garden in 1634.

The yellow petals of Canada columbine taper into upright red spurs, and are filled with sweet nectar that attracts hummingbirds, long-tongued butterflies and hawk moths. Deer resistant, it’s also the larval host for the columbine duskywing butterfly (Erynnis lucilius).

Many well-known hybrids are complex crosses between Aquilegia canadensis, A. longissima and the European A. vulgaris. Columbines cross freely, so if you plant enough species like these, you’ll likely end up with some unique hybrids of your own:

  • Smallflower columbine (Aquilegia brevistyla)
    Zone 2
    Native from Quebec to Yukon
  • Rocky mountain columbine (A. coerulea syn. A. caerulea)
    Zone 3
    Native from Montana to Arizona
  • Western columbine (A. formosa)
    Zone 4
    Native from Alberta and British Columbia to Yukon
  • Longspur columbine (A. longissima)
    Zone 4
    Native to Arizona and Texas

Want more information on native plants? Evergreen, a national charity that makes cities more livable, has a comprehensive database.

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