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Colorado's state flower the Rocky Mountain columbine

They’ve been known by many names: culverwort, fairies dancing, rock bells and devil’s bells, granny’s bonnet, Our Lady’s glove and Aquilegia, its Latin name. But in Colorado we know it best by the name columbine, from the Latin word for dove because the flower’s unique petal and spur design are said to resemble a dove (which I guess they do if you squint, a lot). The nicknames for this flower are a varied as the places it grows nowadays from greenhouses in England to hilltops in the North American Rocky Mountains, but by any name and in any location the columbine flower is a distinctive beauty.

A lavender and white columbine in Rocky Mountain National Park
photos by Mary Glass and Josh Bourassa
A domesticated columbine in a Colorado garden near Rocky Mountain National Park
photo courtesy of Mary Glass

Columbines grow wild in Colorado predominately in altitudes between 7,000 and 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountain regions though domesticated varieties are seen throughout the state. In 1899 the Rocky Mountain columbine, the white and lavender variety, was named Colorado’s state flower making official a 1891 vote by a group of Colorado school children who chose the columbine as their favorite Colorado flower.

Columbines are perennials that come in a variety of colors including red, yellow, white, blue, pink and purple. When in full bloom the columbine can reach well over two feet in height and are known to attract humming birds and butterflies. The characteristic the flower is best known for however is the spur like projections at the base of the blossom. (Explaining why the Latin name Aquilegia comes from the word for eagle likening the spurs to eagle talons) The columbine is a drought-tolerant plant that can grow in rocky or woodland areas so when hiking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains keep an eye on all the cracks and crevices on the hillside as this wildflower can pop up in any partially shaded spot. Columbines bloom from the middle of spring through the middle of summer, and right now in late July they’re blooming in Rocky Mountain National Park. The moderate 7.4 mile Lulu City hike, in the western portion of the park near Grand Lake, is dotted with the state’s official flower.

The Rocky Mountain columbine is one of my favorite wildflowers to see while hiking in Colorado. And I’m happy that as the state’s official flower it is protected by a 1925 law that made uprooting the flower on public lands illegal (FYI it’s also considered every Colorado residents’ duty to protect the columbine). There is one thing I would change about Colorado's official state flower however, I’d like to see the official name changed to Colorado culverwort as I think that nickname better suites the unique beauty of the columbine.

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