A circumboreal group of about 70 species, the genus Aquilegia is represented in North America by 20 native species. Columbines typically grow 1-2 feet tall, but may reach 3 feet or more. The delicate leaves are both basal and alternate on the stem and 1-3 times compound, with each division in threes. The leaves at the base and on the lower stem are large (to a foot long) with long primary and secondary stalks but become much reduced upward. The small leaflets, in threes, are more or less oval with rounded teeth or lobes. The showy, spurred flowers, nodding at the tips of slender branches with the spurs pointing upward, are usually about 1-2 inches long and of various colors. The flower consists of five tubular, petals alternating with five flat, spreading sepals, numerous yellow stamens, projecting downward like a golden tassel well beyond the petals and sepals, and five green pistils with long thin styles, surrounded by the stamens. The distinctive petals, which look like tiny cornucopias, extend backward into long hollow spurs ending in nectar-filled knobs. Not all of the stamens are fertile. The five erect, long-beaked fruits that mature from the pistils are dry pods, called follicles, which split along the inner side to shed their numerous, shiny black seeds. Native Americans used infusions from different parts of the plants of this genus for a variety of ailments, from heart trouble to fever and even as a wash for poison-ivy. When pulverized, the seeds, a commodity of intertribal commerce, were rubbed on the hands by men as a love charm and also used in some tribes as a man's perfume. Aquilegia is a Latin word of uncertain origin, probably, it was derived from aquilegus, meaning "water collector" in allusion to the fluid at the base of the petal's spur, but perhaps from aquila, an eagle, because the spurs suggested the talons of an eagle to Linnaeus. "Columbine" comes from the Latin for dove (columba), the spurred petals perhaps having suggested a ring of doves around a fountain.
Guide to Identify Presented Species of Genus Aquilegia
FLOWERS YELLOW OR WHITE
A. flavescens Yellow Columbine Plants usually 20-70 cm tall, freely branched. Open sites, foothills to alpine.
Flowers lemon-yellow, about 5 cm wide, nodding. Petals with a long spur.
Leaves mainly basal, divided in 3's, long-stalked. Leaflets mostly round.