Columbine, Colorado State Flower

In 1899, the white and lavender Columbine (Aquilegia caerules) became the state flower of Colorado. The flower is so revered, Colorado state law prohibits digging or uprooting the flower on public lands.

Appearance of Columbine

Columbine looks like a floral version of squid in motion, at least that’s what I think. Growing on thin stems from a clump of greenery that can reach two feet across, the Columbine bloom is small, about one inch across. "Spurs" is the name of the squid-looking tendrils. The visual interest of this delicate-looking flower makes it a showstopper in the garden, so plant it near a walkway where passers-by can admire it. The plant can grow 18-36 inches.

Planting Columbine

Plant this perennial in the spring or fall (in colder climates). Columbine grows easily in USDA cold hardiness zones 3a through 8b (click here to see zone chart). Choose a shady location, or a sunny location with shade during the hottest part of the day in warmer climates to avoid wilting. You can start with a container plant from the nursery or root cuttings after dividing another columbine plant. Make the hole slightly larger than the container, or at least eight inches across if starting with root cuttings and about two inches deeper than the roots are long. Plant at ground level, water well, and mulch. Looks best planting in groups, at least one foot apart if you will be dividing them; plant two feet apart if you will not be dividing them. 



Care

Columbine starts blooming in mid-May and can continue to bloom into June. You can deadhead the spent flowers to encourage new blooms, or you leave the spent flowers to seed. The fallen seeds may create new growth the following year, and bloom a year after that. When Columbine finishes blooming, if you cut the plant back, it will regrow at the base, adding an expanse of green to your landscape.

You do not have to divide Columbine because it tends to die out before they are five years old and will need to be replaced, giving more reason to allow the plant to go to seed to keep the flower growing in your garden. If desired, though, divide columbine in the spring when new growth first appears or divide the plant in the fall. To divide, after digging the plant from the ground, pull the base apart carefully to display the roots, and then break or cut apart the mass so there are equal bunches of roots. It’s okay if the dirt separates from the roots. Replant immediately, water, and mulch.  
Columbine against azalea.
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