Aquilegia chrysantha

Today’s photograph and write-up are both by Bryant DeRoy, the BPotD work-study student for this summer. Bryant writes:

Following the wonderful series by Katherine Van Dijk on white-flowered medicinal plants, I thought I would post something with a vibrant colour to mix things up a bit. This photo of Aquilegia chrysantha (golden columbine) was taken in the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden at the UBC Botanical Garden. Aquilegia chrysantha is a member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup family) and is native to the southwestern USA and Chihuahua, Mexico. In the USA, the species is found in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, as well as a a disjunction in Colorado. These herbaceous perennials are often found in shady moist canyons, usually in association with seeping water. Mature plants in typical growing conditions can range in height from 30cm to 120cm. Compared with other columbines, the inflorescence is relatively large, with the spurs projecting from the back of the corolla typically ranging from 4cm to 7cm in length.

Although Aquilegia chrysantha is known as a shade and moisture-loving plant in its native arid habitat, this species does perform well in gardening conditions outside its native range. The specimen pictured above was planted on a southwest-facing slope in full sun in Vancouver, British Columbia; mind you, “full sun” in springtime Vancouver (at the 49th parallel) is much less intense and more infrequent than full sun in the southwestern USA.

Columbine is derived from columbinus, meaning “dovelike” in Latin. Viewed from certain angles, the flowers resemble a cluster of five doves, with the petals (including the spurs) resembling the heads, necks and bodies of the 5 birds (very elongated in Aquilegia chrysantha!) and the spreading sepals imagined as wings. The genus name is derived from the Latin aquila for eagle, a reference to how the petals can resemble eagle talons. The foliage of this species is also of note for its fern-like and sometimes evergreen qualities. Once it has established, Aquilegia chrysantha will often self-sow, a potential benefit to gardeners who enjoy naturalizing plants.

Aquilegia chrysantha

6 responses to “Aquilegia chrysantha”

  1. Annie Morgan

    Thank you for a most interesting little essay, and your choice of photo was just perfect. I can see the bird-like shapes which I’d never noticed before.

  2. Linda Benn

    I love the columbines. Do you know where one could get seeds of this particular beauty?

  3. Bob Wilson

    I’ve always liked this columbine for its elegant long spurs. We grow it here in northern Idaho. It should be noted that, although it does seed readily as columbines do, if you have any other columbines around, they hybridize freely and seedlings are not often true to the parent’s coloration or shape.

  4. Sue Webster

    Interesting how the name derivatives are of two birds which are exact opposites in our bird symbolism – the dove of peace and the eagle of war!

  5. Jane Unger

    What perfect timing. I recently ordered this plant and I expect it to arrive today. A lovely picture.

  6. elizabeth a airhart

    chaucer wrote of columbine’s as early as 1386 in the marchantes’s tale many are the poems and legends of our lovely flower of the day

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