Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database

Aquilegia formosa (Red Columbine, Crimson Columbine, Western Columbine)



 Plantae – Plants


 Tracheobionta – Vascular plants


 Spermatophyta – Seed plants


 Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants


 Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons






 Ranunculaceae – Buttercup family


 Aquilegia L. – columbine


 Aquilegia formosa Fisch. ex DC. – western columbine

Not your ordinary red flower--Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) swings gently with the slightest breeze, attracting only the finest butterflies and hummingbirds. I can't decide whether she looks like a ballerina twirling on pointed toes or a little Miss Muffet raising her skirts to curtsy. No matter, this northwest native perennial will grace your garden each summer.

Healthy,  vigorous plants will soon make themselves right at home among your shrubs or in the flower garden.

After those frisky flowers have gone by, seeds will form and when they are just ripe enough they'll scatter close by the mother plant. Come next spring, you'll see new little plants rising up--this native spreads by self-seeding.

Red Columbine is native all along the Pacific coast from Baja, California to Alaska and east into Idaho and Utah. It prefers to have a sheltered site for its feet and will reach upward toward the sun.

A member of the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae), Aquilegia formosa is the most common species here in the northwest. In the wild, you'll find them in open, rocky places, streamsides and mountain meadows wherever there is a little moisture. (Note: make sure this plant gets enough water, especially during the first year.)

The spurs atop the bloom provide a rich feast for long-tongued butterflies and hummingbirds but they are also treasured by children and bumblebees. Who will find the sweet nectar first? It's a race! Leslie L. Haskins in his book Wildflowers of the Pacific Coast says "No plant surpasses this in its airy grace of flower and leaf." He quotes poet Jean Ingelow (1820-1897):

"O Columbine, open your folded wrapper,

Where two twin turtle-doves dwell."

According to Mr. Haskins, horticulturist George Gibbs said the roots of this plant are edible and were eaten by Native Peoples. Mr. Gibbs was quite correct in this observation. However, we warn that the Buttercup family contains some fairly dangerous members so one should proceed with great caution before making a meal of Columbine roots. Rather, steal the honey from the spurs and leave the roots to tradition.

An elegant perennial, nodding red flowers distinguish this elegant plant from the Blue Columbine, whose flowers are held erect.

Hummingbirds and butterflies thrive on columbine nectar.

This is a beautiful, delightful flower reaching to about 2' tall. A fine native for every garden, Red Columbine is found along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja, California and east into Utah (USDA 7-10).

This columbine needs regular water but is otherwise very adaptable. Given that this species is common in the countryside, usually twining its way to the sun from amidst bushes and brambles, its water requirements are successfully met by that which falls from the sky naturally. I think having its feet shaded gives it an assist in the moisture department.

Natives groups used Red Columbine medicinally.

Stalking the wild columbine: Located on the western edge of Eugene, Oregon, the West Eugene Wetlands (WEW) is an area of grassland habitats. Comprised of less than one percent of the original native wet prairie, the WEW is home to over 200 species of wildflowers, plants, birds, and animals, including four threatened and endangered species: Fender's blue butterfly, Kincaid's lupine, Bradshaw's lomatium, and Willamette daisy. The BLM's Eugene District, in collaboration with other Rivers to Ridges partners, works to protect and restore this vital wetland ecosystem in the Southern Willamette Valley. This unique project involves federal, state, and local agencies, as well as non-profit organizations, working together to manage lands and resources in an urban area for multiple public benefits. Each year, Willamette Resources & Educational Network (WREN) provides hands-on, minds-on environmental education to over 1,500 local students. Photo credits: Christine Williams, Mackenzie Cowan, Sandra Miles, Sally Villegas, and West Eugene Wetlands staff.

Read more about WEW at www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/index.php


Photo, left, credit: Daniel Schwen; Photo, center, credit: Queerbubbles, Smithsonian Gardens; Photo, right, credit: Ian Sane from Oregon, USA "Red columbine Sun Bathing"


Photo, left, credit: Doug Murphy; Photo, center, credit:  US Dept Fish and Wildlife; Photo, right, credit: Christophermluna

Note: In the photo at right, the little bulbs at the end of each petal are filled with purely sweet nectar!


Photo, right, credit: Danette



Painting, center, credit: J. Furches


Photo credit:  Alan Vernon, British Columbia

 Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management

Photo credit: Curtis Clark


Photo, left, credit: Akos Kokai; Photo, right, credit: Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, USFWS Dwarf crested iris and crimson columbine

Two gardens with Red Columbine: at left, the columbine is growing in a masterful chunk amid other tall perennials; at right, the iris blooms first, followed by the columbine, and last to bloom will be the lupines--it is a wave of color changing as the seasons roll on.


Photo, left, credit: Walter Siegmund; Photo, right, credit: Katja Schulz, Red Columbine natural habitat along the trail to Lily Lake, Sawtooth National Forest near Stanley, Idaho


Photo, center, credit: brewbooks

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