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Aquilegia coerulea James
Colorado Blue Columbine, Rocky Mountain Columbine
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)
Synonym(s): Aquilegia caerulea
USDA Symbol: AQCO
USDA Native Status: L48 (N)
The large, upright, blue and white flowers of this popular wildflower are long-spurred and rise above deeply cut, light-green foliage. This short-lived perennial grows to 2-1/2 ft. tall.
The Colorado state flower as Aquilegia caerula, an orthographic variant of the originally published name. Popular in cultivation, with several color phases and double flowers. Hybridization with other species has produced further cultivated varieties. Phases in the wild with pale or white sepals are frequent. A species with blue sepals and white petal tips, but only 2-8 inches (5-20 cm) tall, is Alpine Blue Columbine (A. saximontana), whose blue spurs are hooked at the tip; it grows high in the Colorado mountains.
The genus name "Aquilegia" comes from the Latin "aquila" which means "eagle" and refers to the spurred petals that many believe resemble an eagle's talons.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Root Type: Tap
Fruit Type: Follicle
Size Notes: Up to about 30 inches tall.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White , Pink , Blue
Bloom Time: May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep
Bloom Notes: Sometimes pink.
DistributionUSA: AZ , CO , ID , MT , NM , NV , SD , UT , WY
Native Distribution: Mts. of s.w. MT & c. ID to n. NM & AZ
Native Habitat: Moist woods; open, mountain meadows
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Moist, talus & rocky soils.
Conditions Comments: Rocky Mountain columbine can be susceptible to aphids when grown in open areas. Most columbine hybrids have this species as one parent. While an individual plant may live only 4-5 years, once established, the plant will self-seed. As one goes north or west from Colorado the blue color of this species becomes less pronounced, until finally the flowers are white or cream. Also, those flowers found naturally at higher altitudes tend to be more colorful than those at lower elevations.
BenefitUse Wildlife: Provides nectar for long-tongued insects and hummingbirds.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
PropagationDescription: Sow seeds outside in fall or divide mature plants in late summer or early fall. Seeds need light to germinate, so scratch only lightly into the soil.
Seed Collection: Seeds may ripen and be shed before the pod has turned brown. If seeds in greenish follicles are black, they are ready to collect. Cut the fruiting stalk and keep in a dry bag for a few days until the seeds shake free.
Seed Treatment: Chilling in moist sand for 2 months will accelerate germination.
Commercially Avail: yes
Find Seed or Plants
Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.
National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Tohono Chul Park, Inc. - Tucson, AZ
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
Web ReferenceWebref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Aquilegia coerulea in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Aquilegia coerulea in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Aquilegia coerulea
MetadataRecord Modified: 2023-05-04
Research By: TWC Staff