Aquilegia Express: Red Columbines

Aquilegia formosa, western columbine

The western columbine occurs from coastal Alaska south through the Yukon Territory, British Columbia and adjacent Alberta to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada and Wyoming.

Aquilegia formosa
A swallowtail butterfly taking a sip of nectar from Aquilegia formosa and in the process pollinating the flower. Notice how the butterfly’s thorax comes in contact with both the stamens and stigma. Photo by Joanne Baggs.

Map of the range of Aquilegia formosa in North America.
Range map of Aquilegia formosa var. formosa. Also see range maps for var. hypoplasia and var. truncata. Courtesy of Flora of North America.

Aquilegia formosa ranges in height from 30 to 100 cm. The stems are pubescent above with the leaves glabrous or pubescent on either surface. The flowers are nodding. The sepals are red, 10 to 25 mm long, and perpendicular. The blades are yellow, very short, 2 to 6 mm long. The spurs are red, 10 to 20 mm long and straight. The stamens extend beyond the blades.

Aquilegia formosa is found growing in moist areas in forests, woodlands, alpine and subalpine meadows.

Aquilegia formosa
In this close-up image of Aquilegia formosa, note the very short yellow blades. Photo by John O’Neill.

Aquilegia formosa plant
With its red flowers, Aquilegia formosa is readily visible in this alpine meadow. Melting snows provide the moisture for the wildflowers in this meadow to thrive. Photo by Joanne Baggs.

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