Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis: Diminutive perennial for spring color in shady spots
Description: Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, is a perennial, native to dry and medium-moisture wooded areas in eastern and central North America. It is small, usually 1-1.5 ft tall and 1-1.5 ft wide, not including the flowers that rise about six inches above the foliage. Its mound of foliage is comprised of multi-lobed medium- to dark-green compound leaves with rounded edges that are attractive. Red Columbine’s foliage dies back in mid-autumn and re-appears in late winter, before the blooms in spring. It will also go dormant when the temperature exceeds 110 F.
Flowers and Seeds: Red Columbine's flowers appear in March or April in North Texas. The drooping lantern-like flowers have yellow stamens and anthers hanging below the red and yellow petals and sepals. The petals have distinctive tubes or spurs that give Aquilegia its genus name. In Latin, aquila means eagle and some think that Aquilegia's spurred petals look like eagles' talons. Seed can be collected 2-4 weeks after flowering.
Planting sites: Red Columbine does well in sandy, well-drained, relatively-poor soils that are neutral or slightly alkaline. It should be planted in shade to part sun.
Watering Instructions: During dry spells, Red Columbine will appreciate supplemental water, but will not tolerate “wet feet”.
Comments: Red Columbine's flowers attract hummingbirds and long-tongued insects and butterflies. It is the larval host for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly and its seeds are consumed by finches and buntings. It is lovely planted under trees. Consider planting Red Columbine instead of invasive exotics like vinca, English ivy or begonias. Good native Texas companion plants include Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis) Pigeon Berry (Rivina humilis), Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata), Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea), Cedar Sage (Salvia roemeriana) and the taller, yellow Hinckley Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana). Note that if you interplant Red Columbine and Hinckley Columbine, they may cross-fertilize, with the intermediate-sized progeny producing mixed red and yellow flowers.
Look for the NICE! Plant of the Season signs and information sheets on your next visit to a participating North Texas nursery. Thank you for using native plants in your landscapes.
Written by Dr. Becca Dickstein