Also known as Granny’s Bonnet or Columbine.
The genus name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because the shape of the flower petals, which are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. The common name “columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove”, due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.
Columbine is a hardy perennial, which propagates by seed. It will grow to a height of 15 to 20 inches. It will grow in full sun; however, it prefers growing in partial shade and well drained soil, and is able to tolerate average soils and dry soil conditions. Columbine is rated at hardiness zone 3 in the USA so does not require mulching or protection in the winter.
Large numbers of hybrids are available for the garden, since the European A. vulgaris was hybridized with other European and North American varieties.  Aquilegia species are very interfertile, and will self-sow. Some varieties are short-lived so are better treated as biennials. The following hybrid cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society‘s Award of Garden Merit:
Columbines have been important in the study of evolution. It was found that Sierra Columbine (A. pubescens) and Crimson Columbine (A. formosa) each have adapted specifically to a pollinator. Bees and hummingbirds are the visitors to A. formosa, whilehawkmoths would only visit A. pubescens when given a choice. Such a “pollination syndrome“, being due to flower color and orientation controlled by their genetics, ensures reproductive isolation and can be a cause of speciation.
Aquilegia petals show an enormous range of petal spur length diversity ranging from a centimeter to the 15 cm spurs of Aquilegia longissima. Selection from pollinator shifts is suggested to have driven these changes in nectar spur length. Interestingly, it was shown that this amazing spur length diversity is achieved solely through changing cell shape, not cell number or cell size. This suggests that a simple microscopic change can result in a dramatic evolutionarily relevant morphological change.
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