Lacy foliage and beautifully presented flowers in exquisite pastels, deeper shades, and white give columbines a fairylike, woodland-glen quality. Plants are erect and range in size from 2 in. to 4 ft. high. Divided leaves similar to maidenhair fern (Adiantum) may be fresh green, blue-green, or gray-green. Slender, branching stems carry erect or nodding flowers to 3 in. across, often with sepals and petals in contrasting colors; they usually have backward-projecting, nectar-bearing spurs. Some columbines have large flowers and very long spurs; these have an airier look than short-spurred and spurless kinds. Double-flowered types lack the delicacy of the single- flowered sort, but they make a bolder color mass. Blossoms typically appear in spring and early summer.
A. canadensis. WILD COLUMBINE. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to much of eastern and central North America. Grows 12 ft. tall (occasionally taller) and about 1 ft. wide. Red-and-yellow, 112-in., nodding flowers have slightly curved, 1-in. spurs. Red color may wash out to pink in areas with warm night temper- atures. Less susceptible to leaf miners than most columbines. 'Corbett' has creamy yellow flowers. Dwarf 'Little Lanterns' grows 10 in. tall.
A. chrysantha. GOLDEN COLUMBINE, GOLDEN-SPURRED COLUMBINE. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to Arizona, New Mexico, and adjacent Mexico. One of showiest species. Large, many-branched plant to 34 ft. tall, 12 ft. wide. Undersides of leaflets densely covered with soft hairs. Upright, clear yellow, 112- to 3-in. flowers with slender, hooked spurs 2212 in. long. 'Yellow Queen' grows 3 ft. tall and produces an abundance of clear yellow, fragrant blossoms.
A. c. hinckleyana. HINCKLEY'S COLUMBINE. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to Big Bend country of Texas. To 1122 ft. high and wide, with long-spurred flowers in chartreuse yellow. Blue-gray foliage stays handsome in summer, and leaf miners aren't a big problem.
A. flabellata. FAN COLUMBINE. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to Japan. Stocky plant 8 in.112 ft. high, 1 ft. wide, with nodding, 112-in., two-tone flowers of lilac-blue and creamy white. Hooked spurs to 1 in. long. Differs from most other columbines in having thicker, darker leaves, often with overlapping segments. A. f. pumila is a very dwarf form (just 4 in. high). Good rock garden plant. The Cameo series is dwarf (48 in.) and comes with two-toned flowers of white and blue, pink, or rose.
A. hybrids. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. These include graceful, long-spurred McKana Giants and double-flowering Spring Song (both to 3 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide). Nora Barlow Mixed, reaching 2212 ft. high and 2 ft. wide, has double flowers in a wide range of colors (the original 'Nora Barlow' has reddish pink blooms with white margins). About the same size is Vervaeneana Woodside Variegated Mixed, with variegated leaves and various flower colors. Lower-growing strains include Biedermeier and Dragonfly (1 ft. high and wide); early-blooming Spring Magic (14 in. tall and 12 in. wide); long-spurred Music (112 ft. high and wide); long-blooming Origami (1618 in. high); and single to double, upward-facing Fairyland (15 in. high and wide).
A. longissima. LONGSPUR COLUMBINE. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to Southwest Texas, southern Arizona, and northern Mexico. Grows 23 ft. tall and about 1122 ft. wide. This species is quite similar to A. chrysantha. Numerous erect, pale yellow blossoms with very narrow, drooping, 4- to 6-in.-long spurs.
A. vulgaris. EUROPEAN COLUMBINE. GRANNY'S BONNETS. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to western, central, and southern Europe; naturalized in eastern U.S. Grows 1212 ft. tall, 1 ft. wide. Nodding blue or violet flowers to 2 in. across with short, knobby spurs about 34 in. long. Many selections and hybrids offer single to fully double blooms, either short spurred or spurless.
Columbines are not fussy about soil as long as it is well drained. Cut back old stems for second crop of flowers. All kinds attract hummingbirds. Deer tend to leave them alone. Most are not long lived and will need to be replaced every 3 or 4 years. Allow the spent flowers to form seed capsules to ensure a crop of volunteer seedlings. If you're growing hybrids, the seedlings won't necessarily duplicate the parent plants, but seedlings from species (if grown isolated from other columbines) should closely resemble the originals. Leaf miners are a potential pest, especially on hybrids.