Canadian Columbine

Aquilegia canadensis

Description & Overview

Canadian Columbine is an interesting shade plant with dainty, fan-shaped foliage. Numerous, nodding red flowers with yellow centers are borne on slender stems in late spring and early summer. Delicately beautiful, this plant is an excellent choice for alkaline environments in partial shade. May also be known as Eastern Red Columbine and Meeting-Houses. May also be known as Wild Columbine.

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Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 2 feet
Mature Spread: 1 foot
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Upright
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Well-drained soil, drought tolerant; intolerant of excessive moisture
Flower: Red to Pink with yellow center, nodding, bell-like
Bloom Period: May-June
Foliage: Dark Green, fan-shaped
Fall Color: Insignificant, yellow
Fruit Notes: Small seed, black

Suggested Uses:

Canadian Columbine is a great addition to gardens in partial or full shade. It is an excellent component in natural gardens where it will form large masses due to its self-seeding habit. This reseeding ability also lends itself to slope stabilization or areas with rocky, gravelly soils that are difficult to plant.

Wildlife Value:

Canadian Columbine attracts many species of our native wildlife. As hummingbirds migrate to our region, Aquilegia canadensis is one of their first stops for its early blooms and high-quality nectar. The flowers will also attract butterflies, bees, and hawk moths. It’s a larval host to the Columbine Duskywing skipper.

In winter, the seeds are a food source for Finches and Buntings.

Maintenance Tips:

When planting, make sure it receives adequate moisture for the first year. Soils should not be saturated, but it should not be allowed to dry out. Although the plant tolerates full sun, it requires more moisture to keep its foliage attractive than plants grown in partial shade.

Canadian Columbine is a short-lived plant, with individual clumps only persisting for 3-5 years. To ensure this plant persists in the landscape, spent blooms should be left on and the plant should be allowed to go to seed. While removing spent blooms can encourage reblooming, you should only do so if you’re willing to replace the plant when it dies.

We recommend cleaning up dead foliage in spring before new growth flushes so that the plant can mulch itself over winter. Cleaning up in fall is also an option.


Canadian Columbine is deer and rabbit resistant and has no major insect or disease problems. While Leaf Miner is problematic for Aquilegia hybrids, our native Columbine has excellent resistance to this pest, rarely becoming a problem in landscape settings.

If planted in full sun, the foliage may scorch and overall plant growth could be stunted. When siting Canadian Columbine in full-sun, ensure the plant receives adequate moisture through watering or by planting in an area that is consistently moist.

Leaf Lore:

The genus name Aquilegia refers to the five-spurred flowers’ resemblance to an eagle’s talon. The epithet canadensis mean ‘of Canada’, quite common for many eastern woodland species (see Eastern Hemlock, Wild Ginger, Eastern Redbud).

Its growth bhabit is influenced by its site conditions. In rich, moist soils, Canadian Columbine becomes a gangly, vegetative plant with few blooms. In contrast, poorer, well-drained sites lead to it having a tidy, compact, attractive habit. Keep this in mind when choosing companion plants as their site requirements should be similar.

Historically, Canadian Columbine had a variety of medicinal uses. The roots could treat stomach problems, and the seeds were known to remedy headaches, rashes, fevers, and sore throats.

Companion Plants:

Pair Canadian Columbine with other drought-tolerant shade plants like Solomon’s Seal, Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), and Heuchera. In sunnier sites you may consider using Amsonia or Lady’s Mantle, but be aware that Canadian Columbine will require more moisture to retain its attractive foliage.

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