Red Columbine

Botanical Name
Aquilegia formosa

(ack-wi-LEE-gee-uh for-mo-sah)

Common Name
red columbine


Growth Form
herbaceous, taprooted

Life Cycle

meadows, open forests

Red columbine’s unique red and yellow flowers rise 2-3′ above a lower layer of delicate soft green foliage. This perennial blooms in mid-late spring, later followed by capsules bearing shiny black seeds. They are typically found in open meadow areas or forest edges throughout the pacific northwest.

With nectar located at the end of the five, tubular spurs of each flower, this plant is a favorite of pollinators with long tongues, such as hummingbirds and butterflies; though bumblebees may “cheat” and make holes in the outside of the spurs to get to the nectar. Birds enjoy both the seeds later in summer and fall and various caterpillars that might be feeding on the foliage.

In the garden, columbine can survive in a variety of conditions, but does best in a partially shady area with somewhat moist soil, such as a transition from sun to shade. They are non aggressive, relatively short-lived, but also self-sow readily.



Flowering Period
May-August, depends on elevation and seasonal variation

Flower Color

Height and Spread
up to 4′ high and 2′ wide

Light Requirements
full-sun to part-shade

Water Requirements
moist to dry

Soil Preference

Garden Habit
short lived, not aggressive, self sows

Wildlife Benefits
nectar/pollen for hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, numerous beneficial insects; foliage supports caterpillars; birds enjoy seeds and caterpillars

Nursery Production

Seed Propagation

  • Seed Collection
    Collect in early summer when follicles begin drying, turning brown, and seed can be heard rattling inside. Collect entire follicle and store in cloth bag or open container until dry, brittle and seeds fall out.
  • Seed Cleaning
    Much seed can be easily separated by just dumping seed out of follicles that have split open. Bits of chaff can be separated from seed using a fan or gentle blowing.
  • Seeds per gram
    560 (15800/oz)
  • Additional Info
    It hybridizes readily with other cultivated Aquilegias if they are in the vicinity. Hybridized plants will typically have a different flower color and a slightly different leaf shape with fewer toothed margins.
  • Pre Sowing Treatments
    Seeds are soaked 24 h with aquarium bubbler; cold stratification (40F/5C), 120-150 days. Continue to check seed as germination can occur in cold stratification.
  • Seed Dormancy Type
  • Sowing
    Remove from cold stratification and sow either when germination begins in strat, or at the end of required cold days. Optimal timing at Oxbow has been Feb/March
    7 cubic inch container (Ray-Leach, Steuwe and Sons, Tangent, OR)
  • Germination
    Seed will often begin germination in cold stratification; typically above ground germination begins within 2-4 wks of sowing, and continues approximately 4 wks; germination rates medium.
  • A-sexual Propagation
    Division of big clumps is possible.

Growing Out

  • Irrigation
    Plants can tolerate drying out, but keep moist during active growth periods.
  • Growth Rate
  • Special Planting Instructions
    AQFO has a large taproot but it transplants well if it is not severly cut.
  • Growing Conditions
    Can grow in partial or full sun.
  • Pruning or Cutting Back
    It needs to be cut back frequently during the growing season as leaves deteriorate or become covered by powdery mildew. Plants will quickly recover and grow new leaves.

Pests and Diseases

  • Insect Pests
    aphids, columbine sawfly, leafminers
  • Diseases
    powdery mildew