Content Detail

Wild columbine is a herbaceous perennial, native to North America. The unusual, spur-shaped, red and yellow flowers hang downward from sparsely branched stems in late spring to early summer. A perfect addition for naturalizing and shady gardens. This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. 

  • Family (English) Buttercup
  • Family (botanic) Ranunculaceae
  • Tree or plant type Perennial
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Medium plant (12-24 inches), Large plant (more than 24 inches)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Dry soil, Sandy soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Occasional drought
  • Season of interest mid spring, late spring, early summer
  • Flower color and fragrance Orange, Yellow
  • Shape or form Upright
  • Growth rate Slow


Wild columbine is a 1 to 3 foot high, sparsely branched, herbaceous perennial.

Native geographic location and habitat: 

Found in rocky open woodlands, wooded slopes, sandy savannas, and cliff bluffs in North America. It is the only columbine native to Illinois. C-Value: 6 

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife:

Hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators are attracted to the flowers.

Leaf description:

Mounds of basal ternately compound (divided into groups of 3 leaflets) leaves are each 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. The upper surface is glabrous with a whitish bloom. The foliage is toxic if ingested.

Flower description: 

Round stems that are red to green and fuzzy hold the individual or in groups of three flowers. Each flower is 1 1/2 inch long and hangs downward. Showy flowers consist of five yellow petals, five red, petal-like sepals and many long yellow anthers and stamens. The base of the flower has long red to reddish-purple nectar spurs. Flowers in late spring to early summer, lasting three to four weeks.

Fruit description: 

Each flower produces a five pod-shaped follicle with a long beak. The seeds are shiny black.

Plant care:

Wild columbine is best in part shade to light sun in moist to dry conditions. Tolerant of a wide range of soil from sandy to rocky loam and of full sun with adequate moisture once established.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

Wild columbine is resistant to leaf miner, deer, rabbits, drought, and dry soil.

Corbett wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis ‘Corbett’):

A short mound reaching 8 to 12 inches high, this cultivar has yellow flowers in May and June.

Little Lanterns wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’):

A compact version, 12 to 18 inches high and 18 to 24 inches wide, with scarlet red flowers with showy yellow corollas.

Similar species

Fan columbine (Aquilegia flabellata): 

Compact, 12 to 18 inches high and 12 inches wide; waxy nodding flowers, lilac-blue with short curving spurs; blue green compound leaves; great for rock gardens

Dwarf White Fan columbine (Aquilegia flabellata ‘Nana Alba’):

A compact form, less than 12 inches high with white flowers.

Ministar Fan columbine (Aquilegia flabellata ‘Ministar’):

At 6 to 12 inches high and wide, this plant has blue and white nodding flowers and blue-green foliage.


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