PNW Landscape Plant Guide

brought to you by the plant geeks at Calendula Farm

Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

The succession of western wildflowers through spring and summer makes us so very, very happy. Here’s another one we’ve had a decades-long love affair with. Columbines in general are one of our most favorite flowers, but Western Columbine is especially sweet – literally. The long spurs sweeping behind the rest of the bloom are filled with sweet nectar that makes hummingbirds and butterflies ecstatic. The flowers can also be added to salads and enjoyed by humans as well.

Western Columbine is native in most states from the Rocky Mountains westward and north through British Columbia in open meadows on mountain slopes to the edges of woods in the lowlands. It is nearly identical to Eastern Columbine which grows everywhere east of the Rockies. Both the common and Latin names refer to birds – the Latin name refers to eagles, possibly because the nectar-filled spurs resemble eagle talons. The common name refers to doves. It seems that for millennia, this plant has been connected with peace, love, strength, and beauty. Not a bad thing.

Strikingly bright crimson flower parts sweep dramatically backwards with sunny yellow centers thrusting forward. These dangle by the dozens mid-spring through early summer. Plant it in light shade to full sun. Grows to 12-30 inches tall. Trim off spent blooms to keep it blooming for a couple of months. Let a couple of blooms go to seed and it will create a lovely little patch of itself.