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Aquilegia canadensis – American Columbine

American columbine is wonderful in the shade garden. Aquilegia canadensis (American columbine, a.k.a. wild columbine, Canadian columbine, Eastern red columbine) appears in spring, hangs around gracefully for a month or two, and then fades into the garden background.

American columbine in the garden

I have never seen a hybrid columbine I would value more highly than our native species. American columbine gives the illusion of being long-lived, but individual plants rarely last more than a season or two in the garden. Columbine reseeds readily, ensuring a steady supply of plants from season to season.

If you leave the soil more or less undisturbed, new plants will arise the following spring. has some great information about this species.

American columbine
American columbine flowers

Individual plants grow 6-30″ or so, and leaves are tri-lobed. Both hummingbirds and butterflies enjoy the nectar, a bonus in the early season. Plant columbine where there is morning sun and afternoon shade. Err on the side of too much shade. Columbine will not do well in hot, sunny conditions. It prefers rich, loamy soil and average to wet conditions.

american columbine
American columbine.

If you like a garden that is a bit untended, a bit left to chance, then American columbine is a must.

It’s not really for formal gardens, columbine. My preferred method of growing all of the different columbines is to encourage them to spring up wherever they prefer. They add color in early spring and other plants will soon emerge to camouflage things as summer progresses. I find that when I plant American columbine it looks a bit stiff. It looks like a human being planted it. Over time, as it seeds around the garden things begin to look more natural. I have learned over time to plant it among ferns or at the base of old walls and fences.

One almost has to force oneself to plant American columbine in places we never would normally. The more I can just stick it somewhere awkward, the better it looks. It’s almost as if a human would never plant it there so the columbine must have arrived naturally.

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