May: Columbine

May's plant of the month is one of my favorites: columbine. Columbine thrives on woodland edges between full sun and part shade. The delicate, intriguing flowers nod gently on slender stalks from mid to late spring. The foliage is light and airy, and helps create a calm atmosphere even after the flowers are gone. Later in the season, the seedpods ripen and produce a gentle rattling sound when the wind blows.

The common name columbine actually refers to more than one species. Here, we are usually talking about our native Eastern Red Columbine (pictured at the top of the page), the European Columbine, or hybrids and varieties of either one. The picture above gives an idea of the kind of diversity available in columbine flowers. For simplicity's sake, I'll continue referring to them all as columbine, and the plant information below will be general to all common columbine you would find around here.

Our native columbine species. By Ragesoss - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Our native columbine species.
By Ragesoss - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Common Name: Columbine

Scientific Name: Aquilegia species

Notable Varieties: Aquilegia canadensis (North American native), Aquilegia vulgaris (European native), 'McKana Giants' (hybrid with huge flowers in wide color range), 'Black Barlow' (very dark burgundy doubled petals)

Light: full sun to part shade

Size: 18-24" tall, 12-18" wide

Soil: well drained, very tolerant beyond that

Blooms: wide color range, April-May

Other Notes: deer and rabbit resistant; hybrids and European columbine can have leaf miner problems, but native columbine rarely does; self-seeds if you leave pods

See other plants of the month.

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