Lacy foliage and beautifully poised flowers in exquisite pastels, deeper shades, and white give columbines a fairylike, woodland-glen quality. Plants are erect and range from 2 in. to 4 ft. high, depending on species or hybrid.
Divided leaves reminiscent of maidenhair fern (Adiantum) may be fresh green, blue green, or gray green. Slender, branching stems carry erect or nodding flowers to 3 in. across, often with sepals and petals in contrasting colors; they usually have backward-projecting, nectar-bearing spurs. Some columbines have large flowers and very long spurs; these have an airier look than short-spurred and spurless kinds. Double-flowered types lack the delicacy of the single-flowered sort, but they make a bolder color mass. Bloom season comes in spring and early summer.
Plants are not fussy about soil as long as it is well drained. On all columbines, cut back old stems for a second crop of flowers. Most are not long-lived and will need to be replaced every 3 or 4 years. Allow spent flowers to form seed capsules to ensure a crop of volunteer seedlings. If you’re growing hybrids, the seedlings won’t necessarily duplicate the parent plants, but seedlings from species (if grown isolated from other columbines) should closely resemble the originals. Leaf miners are a potential pest, especially on hybrids.
Native to northern Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Grows to 1 1/2 ft. tall and 15 in. wide, with rich bright orange to yellow, 1 1/2-in. flowers. Spurs are held in the same plane as the rest of the blossom and extend beyond it, giving the bloom as a whole a distinct arrowhead shape.
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