August 1st marks the 140th anniversary of Colorado’s statehood. The Rocky Mountain Columbine is the state flower and a beloved Colorado symbol. How much do you know about the plant’s history and care? Read on to see.
The Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) was discovered in 1820 by a hiker on Pike’s Peak. It became the state flower seventy-nine years later, thanks to a vigorous campaign led by Colorado school children.
The colors of the Rocky Mountain Columbine are symbolic: the blue petals represent the state’s clear sky, the center white cup reflects the snow-capped mountains and the yellow stamen symbolizes the region’s gold mining history.
Columbine is the Latin word for dove, a name befitting the graceful, long spurred blooms. We are fortunate that most of the 70 species of columbines can be grown in our climate. Cultivation requires a half day of sun, good drainage and moderate moisture. A fairly short-lived perennial (about 4-5 years), it self-sows with ease. Beware, seedlings can be mischievous chameleons, returning as a different color than the mother plant.
Hummingbirds, butterflies, native bees and bumblebees are attracted to columbine nectar. Many columbine varieties do not like heat, so flowering will decline in the hottest part of the summer. Blooms can re-appear when temperatures moderate, especially if spent blooms are deadheaded.
The Denver Gold Columbine® (Aquilegia chrysantha) has become very popular in recent years. While not an official plant of the city, it is an unfussy, heat tolerant, hardworking yellow bloomer which can flower from May through September.
- Check out this site to learn about the official flowers of other states.
- Additional information on growing columbines, including suggestions for varieties suited for higher elevations can be found here.
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Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener