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 Large plant (more than 24 inches), Medium plant (12-24 inches)
  • Light exposure Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily), Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs 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 early summer, late spring, mid spring
  • Flower color and fragrance Orange, Yellow
  • Shape or form Upright
  • Growth rate Slow


This 1 to 3 foot high, herbaceous perennial is sparsely branched.

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. Foliage is toxic

Flower description: 

Round stems that are red to green and fuzzy hold the individual or in groups of 3 flowers. Each flower is 1 1/2 inch long and hangs downward. Showy flowers consist of 5 yellow petals, 5 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 3 to 4 weeks.

Fruit description: 

Each flower produces a 5 pod-shaped follicle with a long beak; seeds are shiny black.

Plant care:

Best in part shade to light sun in moist to dry conditions. Tolerant of a wide range of soil from sandy to rocky loam. Plants tolerant 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; scarlet red flowers with showy yellow corolla.

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’):

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


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