Looking for a beautiful perennial that's happy in all sorts of tough environments? Check out Red Columbine. Also known as Eastern Columbine, this flower (Aquilegia canadensis) grows from Canada south to northern Florida and west to the Great Plains. It thrives in sandy spots where your pampered exotics can't grow.
Red Columbine begins blooming in its southernmost habitats in early April stretching into June and July in the north. Its glowing 2-inch yellow and orange bell-like flowers are held on slender stems 12-20 inches tall. The flowers end in tube-shaped spurs that are loaded with nectar. This endearing trait makes them beacons for migrating hummingbirds and resident butterflies.
The luxurious blue-green foliage of Red Columbine remains attractive most of the year. Its delicate, lobed leaves will remind you of Italian or flat-leaf parsley.
In the wild, Red Columbine can be found growing in rocky or sandy, well-drained, slightly alkaline soils. Mimic this in the home landscape by tucking young columbine plants into nooks and crevices around tree trunks and roots to maintain plants with a tight, compact habit. Avoid planting columbine in rich soil as this will encourage them to grow weak with leggy foliage. If your area's soil is acidic, add lime to raise its pH to meet eastern columbine's needs.
Find out about Scotts® Soil Test Kits
In the Deep South, Red Columbine requires protection from intense summer sun. It is happiest planted in the shade of deciduous (leaf-losing) trees with slightly moist, well-drained soil. Take care not to over-water the plants in summer as this is a time when the crowns are particularly susceptible to rot.
If you enjoy starting plants from seed, Red Columbine is the plant for you. Cut back the stems and seed heads as they ripen in summer. Place seed heads upside down in a paper bag and hang for a few days until the shiny black seeds drop to the bottom of the bag. Columbine seeds germinate best with 3-4 weeks of cold treatment. You can do this by scattering the seeds on the surface of moistened growing medium and placing in the refrigerator for a month. Or, let nature take care of the cold treatment by planting the seeds in the fall where you want them to grow. Young plants grown from seed will flower their first year.
Good native plant companions for eastern columbine are wild ginger, wild geranium, woodland phlox, bloodroot, Christmas fern, spiderwort, and Jacob's ladder. These plants are available commercially or from your local native plant society.
Photo of bloodroot flower