Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Day 15 — Native Columbine

Wild_Columbine bloom

Native columbine provides a bright spot in the early spring garden.

Native columbine (Aquilegia canadenis) is a native wildflower of the eastern United States. It’s also known as wild columbine or Canada columbine and provides an early spot of color in the springtime shade garden.

A reliable self-seeder, though not in a troublesome way, its delicate, dangling blooms of red petals with yellow stamens often turn up in the most unexpected places. It combines nicely with hosta and other shade-loving perennials, and at 24 to 36 inches high is a bit taller than many of the other columbines, so its blooms aren’t usually crowded by understory plants. Native columbine can be grown in full sun, if extra attention is paid to watering, though it’s probably not the best choice for a sunny slope. If grown in proximity to other Aquilegia it can hybridize, resulting in interesting combinations.

It also has great use as a pollinator plant. Native columbine is an early attractor of butterflies as well as hummingbirds, who are drawn by its nectar and red flowers which can bloom for more than a month. Deer don’t like it, and it’s reliably hardy as far north as USDA Zone 2. Like all Columbines, it’s not a particularly long-lived perennial, but because of its propensity for reseeding you can be assured that spring in your garden will be marked by its return, although perhaps in a somewhat different spot than it once was. This species was used by Native Americans as a narcotic, and to treat headaches, fevers, and intestinal distress.

—Tom McKusick

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