Western Columbine – Aquilegia formosa

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Alaska Wildflowers | Miscellaneous Colors

Western Columbine

Aquilegia formosa

Common Names:

western columbine
crimson columbine
red columbine
Sitka columbine

Genus: Aquilegia
Family: Ranunculaceae
Order: Ranunculales
Full Classification




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Western Columbine is considered edible. However, many flowers in the Ranunculaceae family are mildly toxic, so caution should be exercised in using this flower. The flowers contain a lot of nectar and are popular in salads. The leaves are also often used in salads. The flowers are treated as candy as the nectar can be sucked from the flower base. The greens can also be boiled and eaten.

Western tribes use a decoction of the roots for stomachaches or cough remedy, the leaves chewed for coughs or sore throat. More info on traditional uses on the Native American Ethnobotany Database.

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The western columbine is an attractive red flower that grows on 30-100 cm (12-40 inch) branched stems. The 2x ternately compound basal leaves (twice divided into three leaflets with three rounded lobes) are on shorter stems 10-40 cm (4-16 inches) in length. The red and yellow flowers are nodding to pendent (hanging downwards), about 4 cm (1.5 inches) in diameter, with sepals perpendicular to the floral axis. It has 5 sepals that are elliptic to lanceolate and parallel, rounded tubular petals with red spurs and yellow blads. The stamens protrude, about 12-17mm in length.

Distribution and Habitat

Aquilegia formosa is native to much of the western United States and Canada, including Alaska and the Yukon.

The western columbine prefers moist soils in sunny areas. It is commonly found in meadows, alpine meadows, and along forest edges.


RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (Plants)
SubkingdomTracheobionta (Vascular plants)
SuperdivisionSpermatophyta (Seed plants)
DivisionMagnoliophyta (Flowering plants)
ClassMagnoliopsida (Dicotyledons)
FamilyRanunculaceae (Buttercup family)
GenusAquilegia L. (columbine)
SpeciesAquilegia formosa Fisch. ex DC. (western columbine)

References and Further Reading

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 80

Aquilegia formosa Fisch. ex DC. Taxonomic Serial No.: 18738, ITIS Database

Aquilegia formosa Fisch. ex DC. western columbine, USDA Database

Search string: Aquilegia formosa, Native American Ethnobotany Database

16. Aquilegia formosa Fischer ex de Candolle, Prodr. 1: 50. 1824., Flora of North America

Aquilegia formosa – Fisch., Plants For A Future

All references accessed February 2021 unless otherwise noted

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