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Aquilegia chrysantha (Golden columbine)
Smith, R.W.

Aquilegia chrysantha

Aquilegia chrysantha A. Gray

Golden Columbine, Yellow Columbine, Southwestern Yellow Columbine

Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

Several stems and basal leaves form a bushy perennial columbine one to three feet tall with handsome, clear yellow flowers that are held relatively erect on long stalks rather than nodding. Leaves are usually divided into three, occasionally into two parts (variety hinckleyana), with leaflets up to four centimeters long, all carried on petioles up to 20 centimeters in length. Petal blades normally range from eight to sixteen centimeters long, but those of variety hinckleyana are only two centimeters long and sixteen millimeters wide. Spurs range from less than four to more than ten centimeters in length, with four to nine centimeters most common.

Native to moist canyon seeps in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts of southwestern North America, this popular garden columbine is perfect for brightening dark corners of Southwestern shade gardens. It requires good drainage and can't take excessive sun, but is relatively adaptable to any standard garden soil. It is pollinated by moths, butterflies, and bees.

There are several yellow-flowered columbines in western North America, including Longspur Columbine (A. longissima), the rare Hinckley Columbine (A. chrysantha var. hinckleyana), and the rare Chaplin's Columbine (A. chrysantha var. chaplinei), the latter two currently considered varieties of A. chrysantha. Aquilegia flavescens, a mountain species growing from southern British Columbia to northern Oregon, east to Colorado, western Wyoming, and Alberta, has bent tips on the spurs, forming hooks.

The word columbine comes from columbinus, in Latin "dove," referring to the flower's resemblance to a cluster of 5 doves. The spurs represent the birds' heads and shoulders; the spreading sepals, the wings; the blade of the petal, each bird's body. The genus name, from the Latin aquila ("eagle"), alludes to the petals, which resemble eagle talons.


From the Image Gallery

24 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Retention: Semi-evergreen
Leaf Shape: Obovate
Leaf Venation: Palmate
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous
Leaf Margin: Lobed
Leaf Texture: Smooth
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Follicle
Size Notes: Up to about 3 feet tall.
Leaf: Glaucous green
Flower: Flowers 3-5 inches long. Sepals 5-17 mm wide
Fruit: Green to dark grey 13-18 mm follicles, 2 mm seeds

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep
Bloom Notes: Peak bloom time varies from late spring to late summer


USA: AZ , CO , NM , TX , UT
Native Distribution: Chihuahuan and Sonoran Desert canyon seeps from west Texas, southern New Mexico, southern Utah, and Arizona south into Sonora, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon. Disjunct population in southern Colorado.
Native Habitat: Moist places in sheltered canyons in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Moist, well-drained sandy, rocky, loamy, limestone or igneous soils
Conditions Comments: Needs good drainage but will adapt to clays if enough sand and/or organic matter is worked in to prevent waterlogging. Poor drainage causes crown rot. May go dormant during drought, but minimal moisture and adequate shade can prevent this. Though they tolerate some heat, Southwestern yellow columbines become susceptible to spider mites and aphids in very hot, arid conditions. In continuous full sun, can become stressed, with faded leaves, so plant in shade.


Use Ornamental: A shade-loving perennial with brilliant flowers and handsome, nearly evergreen foliage
Use Wildlife: Attracts butterflies and bumblebees
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Nectar Source: yes


Propagation Material: Clump Division , Seeds
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: Water during drought to prevent dormancy. Cut spent seedheads if desired. To prevent hybridization with other species of columbine, keep different species widely separated.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Planting shade plants in 100+ weather
June 25, 2009
I was planning on planting some columbines in a barrel and Turk's Cap and Coralberry in my yard, but hadn't counted on the extreme heat this early in the summer. Is it okay to plant these things as...
view the full question and answer

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 Organizations Directory

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

Tohono Chul Park, Inc. - Tucson, AZ
NPSOT - Fredericksburg Chapter - Fredericksburg, TX
NPSOT - Williamson County Chapter - Georgetown, TX


Bibref 293 - Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas (1979) Correll, D. S. & M. C. Johnston
Bibref 995 - Native Landscaping from El Paso to L.A. (2000) Wasowski, S. and A. Wasowski
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 1233 - Rare Plants of Texas: A Field Guide (2007) Poole, J. M.; Carr, W. R.; Price, D. M.; Singhurst...

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

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


Record Modified: 2023-01-10
Research By: TWC Staff, GDG

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