red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
eastern red columbine
Aquilegia australis Small
Aquilegia canadensis L. var. australis (Small) Munz
Aquilegia canadensis L. var. coccinea (Small) Munz
Aquilegia canadensis L. var. eminens (Greene) B. Boivin
Aquilegia canadensis L. var. hybrida Hook.
Aquilegia canadensis L. var. latiuscula (Greene) Munz
Aquilegia coccinea Small
Aquilegia latiuscula Greene
Aquilegia phoenicantha Cory
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for red columbine
is Aquilegia canadensis L.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This native perennial plant is 1-3' tall and sparingly branched. The
round stems are green to reddish green and glabrous or pubescent.
Leaves: At first, only basal leaves are produced, but later there are alter-
nate leaves along the stems. These leaves are ternately compound (divided
into groups of 3 leaflets) and they have long petioles that are glabrous or pubescent. Each leaflet is up to 3" long and 2" across; it is usually obovate
in shape with a wedge-shaped bottom, but it divides into 3 rounded lobes.
Each of these lobes is often subdivided into several secondary lobes, re-
sembling large rounded teeth. The upper surface of each leaflet is glabrous
and there may be areas with a whitish bloom. The leaflets can be sessile or
Flowers: The upper stems produce flowers individually or in groups of
2-3. Each flower is about 1½" long and it hangs downward from a long
stalk. This flower has 5 petals, 5 petal-like sepals, and strongly exerted
stamens and styles. Each petal is yellow and rounded toward the tip, but
its base consists of a long nectar spur that is pale red to purplish red. The
sepals are ovate in shape and they are the same color as the nectar spurs.
The nectar spurs of mature flowers are erect (parallel to each other) or
slightly spreading. The anthers of the stamens are bright yellow. There is
no floral scent.
Fruit/Seeds: Each flower is replaced by 5 pod-shaped follicles that have
long beaks. Each follicle splits open along one side to release the shiny
Roots: The root system is fibrous and rhizomes are occasionally produced.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Red columbine propogates itself by
HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include rocky open woodlands, wooded
slopes, sandy savannas, thinly wooded bluffs, shaded areas of limestone
cliffs, limestone glades, fens and bogs, openings in logged woodlands, and
areas along railroad tracks. Occasional wildfires and other kinds of disturb-
ance in wooded areas are probably beneficial in maintaining populations of
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Red columbine prefers light shade to partial
sun, moist to dry conditions, and soil that is loamy, rocky, or slightly sandy.
Mature plants can also tolerate full sun, although young plants require some
shade from neighboring vegetation.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs from late
spring to early summer and lasts about a month.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Red columbine occurs in all States east
of the Mississippi River and extends west to Texas and the mid-West
plains states and Canadian provinces. It is found from Florida to Maine,
and, with the exception of the Canadian Maritime Provinces, occurs
from Quebec to Saskatchewan. It does not naturally occur in the south-
western, Rocky Mountain, far western, or northwestern states or
western Canadian provinces.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: Red columbine has not been
observed in Sky Meadows State Park; it has been observed in Thompson
Widelife Management Area.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Bumblebees and the ruby-throated
hummingbird visit the flowers for nectar; bumblebees may also collect
pollen for their larvae. Short-tongued Halictid bees collect pollen from
the flowers, but they are less effective at cross-pollination. The larvae
of various insects feed on red columbine, including those of Erynnis
lucilius (columbine duskywing), Papaipema leucostigma (borer moth
sp.), Pristophora aquiligae (columbine sawfly), and several Phytomyza
spp. (Leaf Miner Flies). Because the foliage is toxic, it is little bothered by
Red columbine is a popular ornamental, although many of the "columbines"
sold are in fact cultivars, a combination of Aquilegia canadensis and Aqui-
legia vulgaris (European columbine) where Aquilegia vulgaris is one or
both of the parents.
Red columbine flowers are rich in nectar and have been used in mixed
A wide range of medicinal qualities have been ascribed to red columbine.
It has been described as antispasmodic and diaphoretic. It has been used
as a parasiticide, resolvent, and salve. The root is astringent and diuretic.
It is chewed or made into a weak tea for the treatment of diarrhoea and
stomach aches. The tea is used in the treatment of uterine bleeding. The
boiled plant has been used as a hair wash. The seed is anodyne and
febrifuge. An infusion is used in the treatment of headaches and fevers.
Red columbine seed has been rubbed into the scalp to rid the hair of lice;
the crushed seed is pleasantly aromatic and is used as a perfume.
Crooked Run Valley