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Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)
Makin, Julie

Aquilegia canadensis

Aquilegia canadensis L.

Eastern red columbine, Wild red columbine

Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Synonym(s): Aquilegia australis, Aquilegia canadensis var. australis, Aquilegia canadensis var. coccinea, Aquilegia canadensis var. eminens, Aquilegia canadensis var. hybrida, Aquilegia canadensis var. latiuscula, Aquilegia coccinea, Aquilegia latiuscula, Aquilegia phoenicantha

USDA Symbol: aqca

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

This is an erect, branching perennial, up to 2 ft. tall, well-known for its showy flowers. A nodding, red and yellow flower with upward spurred petals alternating with spreading, colored sepals and numerous yellow stamens hanging below the petals. The compound leaves, divided into round-lobed threes, are attractive in their own right.

This beautiful woodland wildflower has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers equipped with distinctly backward-pointing tubes, similar to the garden Columbines. These tubes, or spurs, contain nectar that attracts long-tongued insects and hummingbirds especially adapted for reaching the sweet secretion. It is reported that Native Americans rubbed the crushed seeds on the hands of men as a love charm. European Columbine (A. vulgaris), with blue, violet, pink, or white short-spurred flowers, was introduced from Europe and has now become well established in many parts of the East. Aquilegia canadensis readily hybridizes with the popular Southwestern yellow columbines (A. chrysantha, etc.), yielding some striking yellow-and-red color combinations in the flowers. This genus has been referred to as the flower for the masses. Once started, Columbine propagates for years and, although perennial, increases rapidly by self seeding. (Andy Fyon)

The genus name Aquilegia comes from the Latin aquila which means eagle and refers to the spurred petals that many believe resemble an eagles talons.


Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Root Type: Tap
Leaf Retention: Semi-evergreen
Size Notes: Normally 20 to 30 inches.
Leaf: Green to blue-green.
Flower: Flowers 2 inches long.
Fruit: Tan
Size Class: 1-3 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red , Pink , Yellow
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul


USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: MB , NB , NS , ON , QC , SK
Native Distribution: North America east of the Rockies. From Manitoba and Saskatchewan to Ontario and Quebec, south through much of the eastern US. Disjunct populations in central Texas.
Native Habitat: Partly shaded to shaded woodland habitat with calcareous soils that are not too rich. Central Texas populations primarily in solution-pitted limestone areas in shade.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2) , Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Sandy, well-drained soils. Medium Loam, Sandy Loam, Sandy, Limestone-based. Not too rich.
Conditions Comments: Red columbine likes moisture but must be in well drained soil. Rich garden soil encourages rank vegetative growth and weak stems and shortens the plants lifespan, while plants in thin, sandy soils maintain a tight, compact habit and can live for many years. It is evergreen unless the temperature exceeds 110 degrees F or -10 degrees F, which will cause the leaves to go dormant until the temperature returns to a more tolerable level. Do not plant in continuous full sun, as growth will be stunted and leaves may burn.


Use Ornamental: Valued as a shade-loving perennial with attractive foliage and eye-catching blooms. Also does well as a saucerless pot plant.
Use Wildlife: Blooms attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and hawk moths. Seeds consumed by finches and buntings.
Use Other: Native American men reputedly rubbed crushed seeds on themselves to attract amorous attention.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies , Hummingbirds
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Columbine Duskywing
(Erynnis lucilius)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Propagation Material: Seeds
Description: Most easily propagated by seed because mature rootstocks are difficult to divide and transplant. Seeds may be sown immediately after collection or stored and given a cold-moist treatment. Sow seed in fall as soon as temperature drops and in spring before the worst heat. Will germinate in summer, but not as well and plants struggle more. Sow by just scattering on the surface and lightly tamping. Seedlings will flower the second year following germination.
Seed Collection: Flowers go to seed approximately 2 weeks after emerging.
Seed Treatment: Cold-moist stratify for 3-4 weeks at 40 degrees or below.
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: Be careful of overwatering in summer - the crowns can rot. Cut back old seed heads and stems in summer to keep tidy looking. To maintain pure strains of any Aquilegia species and prevent hybridizing (which A. canadensis will readily do), keep different species widely separated - not a surefire protection, but reduces the likelihood.

Find Seed or Plants

Order seed of this species from Native American Seed and help support the Wildflower Center.

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Need plants with red flowers to grow in shaded area in yard in Austin.
May 04, 2010
I have a shaded area where all the shrubs die. I would like to plant some flowers there instead of shrubs. What red flower plants can sustain a lot of shade.
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Austin Shade Plants for Pots
March 28, 2010
I live in a condo in Austin Texas so I don't have any flower beds or yard space. I would like to put a few large pots of plants and flowers on my front patio but it's mostly shaded during the day. W...
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September 02, 2009
We recently were required to put in a new septic system on our vacation property in Door County, WI. This left us with a clearing on our wooded lot where the septic field is now located. The installer...
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July 03, 2009
What flowers and plants do the caterpillars in Tennessee eat? And do you know what butterflies live in Tipton Co. Tennessee?
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Evergreen privacy hedge and drought-resistant garden
July 21, 2008
I am looking for a hardy evergreen hedge for privacy in Northern Michigan. I have sandy soil. Also am interested in planting a drought garden with mostly sun in same sandy soil.
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National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Suppliers Directory

According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:

Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery - Orefield, PA
Wildflower Farm - Coldwater, ON
Wrights Nursery - Briggs, TX
Amandas Garden - Springwater, NY
Enchanter's Garden - Hinton, WV
American Native Nursery - Quakertown, PA
Prairie Nursery - Westfield, WI
Far South Wholesale Nursery - Austin, TX

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX
Texas Discovery Gardens - Dallas, TX
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Natural Biodiversity - Johnstown, PA
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
NPSOT - Williamson County Chapter - Georgetown, TX
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 355 - Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest (1991) Miller, G. O.
Bibref 765 - McMillen's Texas Gardening: Wildflowers (1998) Howard, D.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 281 - Shinners & Mahler's Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas (1999) Diggs, G. M.; B. L. Lipscomb; B. O'Kennon; W. F...
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.
Bibref 286 - Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country (1989) Enquist, M.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Research Literature

Reslit 532 - Experimental analysis of biparental inbreeding in a self-fertilizing plant (2003) C. A. M. Griffin and C. G. Eckert
Reslit 442 - Attractiveness of Michigan native plants to arthropod natural enemies and herbivores (2007) A. K. Fiedler and D. A. Landis
Reslit 380 - Floral morphology mediates temporal variation in the mating system of a self-compatible plant (2009) C. G. Eckert, B. Ozimec, C. R. Herlihy, C. A. Grif...
Reslit 557 - Exotic earthworm effects on hardwood forest floor, nutrient availability and native plants: a mesocosm study (2008) C. M. Hale, L. E. Frelich, P. B. Reich and J. Past...
Reslit 602 - Genetic cost of reproductive assurance in a self-fertilizing plant (2002) C. R. Herlihy and C. G. Eckert
Reslit 603 - Experimental dissection of inbreeding and its adaptive significance in a flowering plant, Aquilegia canadensis (Ranunculaceae) (2004) C. R. Herlihy and C. G. Eckert
Reslit 605 - Evolutionary analysis of a key floral trait in Aquilegia canadensis (Ranunculaceae): Genetic variation in herkogamy and its effect on the mating system (2007) C. R. Herlihy and C. G. Eckert
Reslit 754 - Sequential decline in allocation among flowers within inflorescences: Proximate mechanisms and adaptive significance (2004) A. Kliber and C. G. Eckert
Reslit 900 - Effects of population size and isolation on reproductive output in Aquilegia canadensis (Ranunculaceae) (2001) K. Mavraganis and C. G. Eckert
Reslit 1180 - Effect of population size on the mating system in a self-compatible, autogamous plant, Aquilegia canadensis (Ranunculaceae) (1999) M. B. Routley, K. Mavraganis and C. G. Eckert

This information was provided by the Florida WIldflower Foundation.
Search More Titles in Research Literature

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1989 VOL. 6, NO.3 - Butterfly Gardens, Director\'s Report, Proper Care Gives Staying Power to Cut Fl...
Wildflower Newsletter 1993 VOL. 10, NO.1 - Protecting Trees During Construction, Partnership of Developers and Contractors ...
Wildflower Newsletter 1996 VOL. 13, NO.3 - Hummingbird Gardening, Blooms Beget Butterflies, Butterflies and Hummingbirds Fo...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Aquilegia canadensis in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Aquilegia canadensis in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Aquilegia canadensis


Record Modified: 2013-09-09
Research By: TWC Staff, MWJ

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