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This low-maintenance woodland perennial is well known for its nodding, bell-like flowers that bloom in spring on sturdy stems above masses of blue-green, three-lobed leaves. Wild red columbine grows up to 3 feet tall in full or part shade and a wide range of moist to average soils. The foliage looks better in moister soils and shadier conditions, but the plant tolerates full sun and drier soils once established. It self-seeds readily and will naturalize under the right conditions. Plants often pop up in different places, and you can spread the seeds on your own in bare areas or in pots during fall or winter. Once the flowers have finished blooming, the foliage remains as an attractive groundcover. 


The genus name comes from the Latin word aquila, meaning "eagle," which refers to the  flower spurs that resemble the talons of an eagle. Other common names include eastern red columbine, Canadian columbine, Jack-in-trousers, and Turks cap. The intricate flowers have five red petals with yellowish tips and elongated spurs that form a crown. Five red to pink sepals droop between the petals, and numerous yellow stamens protrude below the petals.


The flower's nectar is a critical food source for returning ruby-throated hummingbirds in spring. The birds must  submerge their heads into the upside-down flower to extract the nectar. Other pollinators include bumble bees, hawk moths, and long-tongued insects. Short-tongued insects must cut holes in the spurs to reach their food; the tiny holes are visible along the top of the flower.


While you may see visible evidence of leaf miners, this columbine is much less prone than other columbine species to serious damage from the insects. Deer and rabbits generally leave A. canadensis alone.


Native habitats include open woodlands, clearings, and rocky slopes. Columbine combines well with other native shade lovers, such as wild ginger, wild geranium, northeastern beardtongue, spotted cranesbill, and trilliums. It's well suited for butterfly, cottage, native, fairy, and rock gardens.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 1- 2' tall and 12-18" wide.


Prefers full or part shade. Tolerates full sun with additional moisture.


Grows in moist, well-drained sandy, clay, or moderately loamy soils.


Blooms for about a month between April and June. One- to two-inch flowers appear singly or in groups of 2 to 3. Each flower results in 5 pod-shaped follicles that open on one side to release shiny, black seeds. Fruits are on display from April to August.


Green to blue-green compound leaves are divided into 3 leaflets, which are further divided into 3 rounded lobes with 3 rounded "teeth." Summer to fall colors range from yellow to purple to pink. Round stems are green to reddish green and may or may not be hairy.


Wildlife Value:

Host plant for 11 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including specialists columbine duskywing butterfly, wild indigo duskywing, and columbine borer. Flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and hawk moths. Seeds are consumed by finches and buntings.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Native Americans crushed the seeds and used them for headaches, fevers, and ceremonial medicines. Whole seeds were rubbed into the scalp and hair to control lice. The seeds were also used to treat heart problems, poison ivy and other skin rashes, and kidney and urinary problems.  The roots, which are somewhat fleshy like parsnips, were chewed or used to make a weak tea for diarrhea, stomach illness, uterine bleeding, and as a diuretic ( 


The flowers are edible. Wild Seed suggests holding and squeezing the flower over your tongue to extract the nectar. The flowers can also be used as a garnish in salad. 


Native Americans used the plant for perfumes and as an additive for tobacco.


Caution: Only the flowers are edible; the stems, roots, and leaves contain toxins and should not be eaten.

Columbine, Wild Red, Aquilegia canadensis

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