Aquilegia Express: The Columbine Flower

Aquilegia coerulea labeled to show the flower's parts.
The parts of a typical columbine flower (Aquilegia coerulea): a) sepal; b) modified petal consisting of a blade and spur; c) stamens and pistil.

Arrival of the genus Aquilegia into North America is a recent event occurring 10,000 to 40,000 years ago during the Pleistocene. Columbines crossed into North America from Asia over the Bering land bridge that connected the two continents during that period. A progenitor columbine began to radiate rapidly out of Alaska and throughout the North American continent. As the columbines were moving through out the continent, new species developed.

As with Darwin’s finches, columbines developed similar but differently shaped and colored flowers in response to newly encountered habitats and pollinators. They developed different positions for presenting their flowers, sepals, and spurs, and different spur shapes in response to their primary pollinator.

Flower Presentation

Columbines present their flowers in “nodding” or erect positions.

Aquilegia brevistyla.
Nodding: Aquilegia brevistyla. Photo by Reed Crook.

Aquilegia canadensis.
Nodding: Aquilegia canadensis. Photo by Larry Stritch.

Aquilegia coerulea var. ochroleuca.
Erect: Aquilegia coerulea var. ochroleuca. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Aquilegia scopulorum.
Erect: Aquilegia scopulorum. Photo by Cheri Howell.

Sepal Position

The following images display the four types of sepal positioning in relationship to the floral axis: straight, spreading, perpendicular, and reflexed.

Aquilegia elegantula.
Straight: Aquilegia elegantula. Photo by Steve Olson.

Aquilegia scopulorum.
Spreading: Aquilegia scopulorum. Photo by Kate Walker.

Aquilegia chrysantha.
Perpendicular: Aquilegia chrysantha. Photo by Andrew Kratz.

Aquilegia eximia.
Reflexed: Aquilegia eximia. Photo by Brad Kelly.

Spur Positioning

There are five types of spur positioning in relationship to the floral axis: a) straight and not spreading; b) straight and spreading; c) curved and spreading; d) hooked and spreading; and, e) hooked and not spreading.

Aquilegia micrantha
a) Aquilegia micrantha. Photo by Al Schneider.

<em>Aquilegia scopulorum</em>
b) Aquilegia scopulorum. Photo by Kate Walker.

Aquilegia coerulea var. ochroleuca
c) Aquilegia coerulea var. ochroleuca. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Aquilegia saximontana
d) Aquilegia saximontana. Photo by Gary Monroe.

Aquilegia brevistyla
e) Aquilegia brevistyla. Photo by Reed Crook.

Spur Shapes

There are a range of columbine spur shapes describing their thickness and length that developed in response to their primary pollinator.

Aquilegia eximia.
Stout and short: Aquilegia eximia. Photo by Brad Kelly.

Aquilegia canadensis.
Stout and long: Aquilegia canadensis. Photo by Larry Stritch.

Aquilegia elegantula.
Narrow and long: Aquilegia elegantula. Photo by Steve Olson.

Aquilegia brevistyla.
Narrow and short: Aquilegia brevistyla. Photo by Reed Crook.

Aquilegia scopulorum.
Narrow and long: Aquilegia scopulorum. Photo by Cheri Howell.

Aquilegia flavsecens.
Narrow and short: Aquilegia flavsecens. Photo by Wayne Padgett.

Aquilegia pubescens.
Narrow and long: Aquilegia pubescens. Photo by John O’Neill.

Aquilegia longissima.
Narrow and very long: Aquilegia longissima. Photo by Gary Monroe.

For More Information

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