Basic information about Aquilegias. Includes Origin, Growing & Cultivation, Common Pests & Diseases, Interesting Facts & Uses, and Garden Design Tips.
The botanical name, Aquilegia, comes from the Latin Aquila, or eagle (the shape of the flower petals is said to resemble an eagle’s claw).
The common name, Columbine, is derived from the Latin word for ‘dove’, since the inverted flower head is said to resemble doves huddled together.
Aquilegia is native to most of the Northern Hemisphere. Many species are native to North America in particular.
Growing and Cultivation
Aquilegia prefers full sun to partial shade. It doesn’t do well in hot, dry areas however, so partial shade is recommended for all southern states and afternoon sun is to be avoided. They aren’t too particular about soil, though they do like it to be well-drained and consistently moist. Water them well until established, and every week (unless rain appears) after that. Moisture-retaining mulch (wood chips, etc) are recommended to keep soil cool and moist for them.
Aquilegia tends to fade out within 3-5 years, but readily sets seed and self-sows. It’s recommended to save seeds from your last flowers every year to plant in spring (or fall) or allow it to self-seed. Keep in mind the varieties will commonly cross-pollinate, so you may see new colors and combinations if you plant more than one variety! Removing the flowers as they fade encourages reblooming during their season, but will not prolong it indefinitely.
This plant benefits from regular fertilization during the summer, or a time-release application in spring.
Common Pests and Diseases
Aquilegia can be susceptible to powdery mildew and leaf miners. This plant is both deer and rabbit resistant – it is poisonous and therefore not attractive to eat.
Powdery Mildew is a fungus easily identified by the white/gray powdery substance sitting on leaves. It can be prevented by good air circulation, and treated if it appears with fungicidal sprays, horticultural oils, sulfur and/or sodium bicarbonate.
Some examples of powdery mildew:
Leaf miners are insect larvae that live inside the leaves and eat the internal cell layers. They’re easy to detect – their crazy twisty ‘mines’ are readily apparent! The best ‘treatment’ is to cut off and dispose of (don’t put on compost piles!) any affected plant part. If you have to cut them down to the ground, wait until after plants have bloomed, and then cut all affected foliage off. Any regrowth (without reinfestation) will be leaf-miner free. They can also be treated with horticultural oils and very specific pesticides – most contact pesticides cannot reach them, as they are inside the leaf itself.
Here are a few pictures of leaf miner damage:
Interesting Facts and Uses:
Aquilegia’s blossoms are very popular with bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, making them an excellent addition to a pollinator-friendly garden. Many species are native to North America, making them a candidate for a native garden as well.
They’re also hardy at high altitudes – Aquilegia can be planted up to 9,000 feet above sea level, and some varieties even like it at 10,000 feet!
This plant is a biennial, meaning when started from seed, will not flower until its second year. The seeds must have a cold period before they will germinate, so they are best sown in fall (or refrigerated and sown in spring).
Aquilegia foliage will frequently turn red in the fall.
Seeds and roots of Aquilegia are quite poisonous, containing a cardiogenic toxin that causes gastroenteritis and heart palpitations. Flowers are edible in moderation, and said to be sweet.
Aquilegia cultivar ‘Blue Bird’ has been awarded the UK Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
Garden Design Tips
Aquilegia’s delicate, ferny foliage can complement larger-leaved shade perennials.
To purchase Aquilegia varieties, please visit our Shade Companion Plants Page.