Columbines (Aquilegia species) are herbaceous perennials. There are many species of columbine, from Aquilegia canadensis, or wild columbine, to the hybrid cultivars (Aquilegia x hybrida) that are commonly grown in home gardens. These small, colorful flowers are part of the Ranunculaceae family and are related to buttercups, according to the University of Vermont. Columbine flowers all have the same basic care needs, regardless of species or cultivar.
Columbine flowers range widely in size. They can grow anywhere between 18 inches and 4 feet tall, with a width of 1 or 2 feet, according to the University of Vermont. The flowers are solid or bi-colored and come in almost every color imaginable, from soft pastels to bright hues. The leaves are compound, broad and bluish-green in color.
Columbine flowers are easy to care for. They can grow in full sun or partial shade and thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture growing zones 3 through 8. Columbine plants bloom best in rich, loamy soil that is kept consistently moist without becoming too soggy. Well-draining soil will help prevent the plant from developing root rot, a fungal disease that destroys the roots of the plant.
Diseases and Pests
Aquilegia plants can be bothered by slugs, leaf miner and fungal diseases such as leaf spot, powdery mildew and rust. Avoid wetting the leaves when watering, and make sure air can circulate around your plants. Surround the planting site with slug bait to prevent slugs from feasting on the flowers. Pick off leaf miners by hand.
Columbine flowers make excellent cut flowers. If allowed to go to seed, the seed pods are attractive when dried and can be used in crafts. Otherwise, deadhead the flowers (remove spent blooms) to save the energy of the plant and encourage it to bloom again. These plants are also deer-resistant, according to Cornell University, making them an excellent choice for gardens in areas plagued by hungry deer populations.
Species and Cultivars
A. alpina are the wild alpine columbines that feature purplish-blue flowers and grow at high mountain altitudes. A. canadensis are found primarily in the eastern part of the United States and are resistant to leaf miners. 'Hensol Harebell' is a medium-size hybrid cultivar desirable for its purplish leaves and gracefully drooping blue flowers. 'Songbird' hybrids average about 2 feet tall and are best loved for their large, prolific, bi-colored flowers.