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Aquilegia vulgaris – European Columbine

Categories:Long-Flowering Perennials Perennials

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European columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) is also known as common columbine, European crowfoot, and granny’s bonnet. If you are searching for a columbine native to the U.S. then American columbine (C. canadensis) is spectacular.

European columbine is one of the earliest blooming garden perennials.

European columbine
European columbine

I personally wouldn’t get too hung up over whether European columbine is a non-native in your region. It is not aggressive enough to endanger local ecosystems. Anyway, the cat is already out of the bag, as European columbine has become naturalized in eastern North America.

Due mostly to its unassuming charm, my loyalties lie unabashedly with the native American columbine. If you prefer the blue flowers of Aquilegia vulgaris, it is hard to blame any gardener for following their own heart in these matters.

Growing Columbine

European columbine is hardy USDA zones 3-9. It will bloom for a couple of months in the garden, an eternity when compared to many perennials. With many perennials, we’re lucky to get a solid two weeks, and you will miss the peonies entirely if you go out of town the weekend they bloom.

European columbine seeds freely but is polite in the garden. I’ve never heard of a columbine infestation and most gardeners I know would be happy for such an event anyway.

european columbine
Aquilegia vulgaris.

Hybrid varieties of columbine will not typically come true to seed. Cross-pollination is common in the columbine world. Deadheading of old blooms does encourage more bloom, although if you have lots of columbine this would be a real task. If you deadhead zealously then you will forego the marvelous habit of columbine to spring up unexpectedly around the garden as volunteer plants.

I have never had columbine travel far in the garden.

Other plants appear as if by magic quite a good distance from their original spot. River oats can be maddening in this way. Columbine seems to sprout up near the immediate vicinity of the mother plant.

European columbine forms relatively low-growing clumps and the flowers are held aloft thin branches 1′-3′ tall. It grows fine in full sun to partial shade but likes things evenly moist. My instinct is always afternoon shade with the columbines, as they seem to like it and their colors tend to wash out in bright sun. Common columbine will not tolerate poorly drained soil.

Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila). Vulgaris means common in Latin.

aquilegia vulgaris
New flowers are reminiscent of an eagle’s talon. This can be seen in the flower in the background. Genus name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word aquila – ‘eagle’.

There are seemingly endless selections of named columbine hybrids, and many of these have Aquilegia vulgaris in their ancestry. I mention this because the Aquilegia vulgaris in your garden may be different than what you see in this article or others. A Google image search will only add to the head-scratching. My advice unless you are a horticultural stickler is to enjoy what you have, columbine or otherwise.


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