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Columbine - official state flower of Colorado



By Ed Powers

I have lived from east coast to west coast and North to south of the US before settling in Colorado.  I have chosen some favorite flowers during that time and the top of the list is Columbine.  They are the the most delicate, beautiful and hardy flower that I have grown.  They grow almost anywhere -- and self seed at a fast pace.  They make any space beautiful, in my opinion.   So you can imagine the excitement I felt when we decided to move to Colorado where we find one of the most, if not the most, beautiful varieties of Columbine in nature: the white and lavender Rocky Mountain Columbine.


A cluster of columbine near Silverthorne at 14000 feet
It was designated the official state flower of Colorado in 1899 after winning the vote of Colorado's school children. Discovered in 1820 on Pike's Peak by mountain climber Edwin James, the Rocky Mountain columbine ( Aquilegia caerulea) is a lovely flower with a rich aroma to attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies to its nectar. The Latin word aquila means "Eagle" and refers to the claw-like spurs at the base of the flower.
There are another  65-70 species of columbines (Aquilegia) in the world, all native to temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Many of the taller species inhabit meadows or open woodlands, with some extending into the alpine zone. In the garden, they are carefree plants that simply require well-drained soil and regular watering during dry spells. They are all late spring-early summer bloomers. Many of the species about to be described are not available at local nurseries, but are often found among offerings of mail-order specialist nurseries or as seed from seed exchanges. However, a word of warning; columbines are promiscuous and will hybridize with blooming neighbours so seeds from exchanges may end up being hybrids. If growing from seed, provide the sown seeds with a stratification period of 4-6 weeks to simulate a winter, or sow outside in the fall. All of these species are hardy to USDA zone 5 and several are hardy to zone 3.
The white and lavender Rocky Mt. Columbine has blue-violet petals and spurs, a white cup and yellow center. Blue is a symbol of the sky, white represents snow, and yellow symbolizes Colorado's gold mining history. However it is threatened by collectors who want it for their rock gardens. A law was enacted in 1925 to protect this rare & delicate flower. The Colorado General Assembly wisely made it illegal to uproot the flower on public lands and the gathering of blossoms and buds is limited (and on most public lands, not permitted at all). It also may not be picked on private land without the consent of the landowner.
A cluster of columbine at 9,000 feet
I enjoy seeing these columbine flower so much that I have taken many pictures of them above 9000 ft in the Ouray, Colorado area over the last 3 summers, including the ones in this article.

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