Aquilegia formosa

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Aquilegia formosa
Aquilegia formosa 6742.JPG
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Ranunculaceae
Genus: Aquilegia
A. formosa
Binomial name
Aquilegia formosa
Aquilegia formosa distrib.png
Aquilegia formosa range map

Aquilegia formosa, the crimson columbine, western columbine, or (ambiguously) "red columbine", is a common and attractive wildflower native to western North America, from Alaska to Baja California, and eastward to Montana and Wyoming.


The Aquilegia formosa plant grows to 20–80 cm in height, averaging around 60 cm. Flowers, which can be seen from April to August (with some variation between regions), are about 5 cm long and red and yellow in color. Technically, the red or orange spreading outer parts of the flower are sepals, and the yellow inner parts are the true petals. The petals bear spurs that attract the plant's pollinators, the sphinx moths. Hummingbirds are also attracted to it in gardens.

The flowers are edible, with a sweet taste—though the seeds can be fatal if eaten, and most parts of the plant contain cyanogenic glycosides.[1]


Within its range, the crimson columbine can be found in most kinds of habitat (chaparral, oak woodland, mixed-evergreen or coniferous forest). It is not found on desert floors, nor at altitudes above 3300 metres, and it is absent from the Central Valley of California. It prefers moist locations such as stream banks.

Crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa truncata) taken at Castle Lake (California)

Native American use[edit]

Some Plateau Indian tribes used the Aquilegia formosa to concoct a perfume.[2] It is also used medicinally by several Native American tribes.[3]


Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word 'aquila', meaning 'eagle', or possibly from the Medieval German words 'Acheleia' or 'Akelei'; this name is in reference to its talon-like nectaries. Formosa means 'handsome', 'beautiful', or 'well-formed'.[4]


  1. ^ Vizgirdas, Ray S.; Edna M. Rey-Vizgirdas (2006). Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada. University of Nevada Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-87417-535-6.
  2. ^ Hunn, Eugene S. (1990). Nch'i-Wana, "The Big River": Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. University of Washington Press. p. 351. ISBN 0-295-97119-3.
  3. ^ "Aquilegia formosa".
  4. ^ Gledhill, David (2008). "The Names of Plants". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521866453 (hardback), ISBN 9780521685535 (paperback). pp 53, 169

External links[edit]

Media related to Aquilegia formosa at Wikimedia Commons