Wild Columbine



Perhaps like you I am enjoying the sight of wild columbines this summer.  They really do brighten the day.

Wild columbine, is a native perennial wildflower native to eastern North America.  Its native range extends from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick south to Florida and westward to southeast Saskatchewan and east Texas.  Here in North Dakota it can be found in woody and brushy habitats over much of the state with perhaps the exception of the westernmost counties.

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), however, is not the same species as most of the cultivated varieties in our flower gardens.  Most of those plants are, or are hybrids from, the European columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) which has been cultivated for centuries.  The plant is referenced in a poem from the thirteen hundreds, and can be found in the writing of Chaucer, and Shakespeare.

The flowers of columbine can be an interesting lesson in flower structure and modification.  The outermost parts of flowers are the sepals, and the petals are produced inward from the sepals.  In most cases the sepals are green and serve to protect the developing flowers, while the petals are usually the colorful structures that serve the all-important function of attracting pollinators.

In columbine flowers both the sepals and petals are colorful.  But a closer look reveals five pinkish to red structures (sepals) that are produced outside of where the inner five petals are attached.  Each of the five rounded and pale yellow petals become reddish toward their base and form a nectar spur.

The nectar of course is an attractant for pollinators.  With those long spurs a person might suspect that hummingbirds are a major pollinator, and they are.  The flowers also attract bees, butterflies, and hawk moths.

Make a point of enjoying the columbine while it is still in bloom.  They are certainly one of the more colorful and interesting wild flowers of the summer.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.




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