Sunday, July 13, 2014

Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)

Columbine, Mt. Timpanogos, 7/24/2013, David Kenison

In the Buttercup family. Found throughout the Rocky Mountains at moderate to higher elevations. Sometimes called the Colorado Blue Columbine. Also called "Rocky Mountain Columbine," but this properly refers to a different species, Aquilegia saximontana. Alternate spelling of species name is caerulea.

The Columbine is the state flower of Colorado, and varieties in that state are often more richly colored in blues and purples, and are often bicolored, with the sepals and petals being dramatically contrasting. Utah specimens tend to be mostly pure and bright white, though some specimens show light color on the lower sepals beneath white petals.

The flower is beautifully presented with 5 rounded petals, backed by 5 pointed sepals. A cluster of yellow stamen and 5 pistils project from the center. Long thin spurs extend several inches behind the flower. The blossom is normally 2-3" in diameter, growing singly or in clusters on plants close to the ground but sometimes a few feet high.

The scientific name presents some interesting insights. Some researchers believe the genus aquilegia is derived from the Latin word aquila for "eagle," referring to the sharp talon-like sepals or spurs. Others attribute it to a combination of aqua ("water") and legere ("to collect") referring to the "nectar at the base of the spur." The species name coerulea comes from the word for "blue."  The name "Columbine" from the Latin columbinus for "dove" refers to the flower's elegant and graceful appearance.

The final verse of Colorado's state song includes these lyrics:
'Tis the land where the Columbines grow,
Overlooking the plains far below,
While the cool summer breeze in the evergreen trees,
Softly sings where the Columbine grows.

- A.J. Flynn 1915 
See also the description of similar flower, the Yellow Columbine.

These photos were taken by the author at a variety of locations around Utah.  Click to view enlargements.

Additional information:
USDA information page
USDA profile

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