Eastern red columbine is an herbaceous perennial common in woodlands and often found hanging from cliffs.
The flowers are single on long stems, with a distinctive shape, the 5 petals forming elongated, hollow, red spurs containing nectar; the 5 sepals are leaflike, attached between the petals, light yellow. The numerous stamens extend below the flower. Blooms April–July.
Leaves: a few are basal, the others are cauline (along the stem), both on long petioles, blades 3-divided with deep lobes, bluish green.
Height: to 2 feet.
Statewide, except in the Southeast Lowlands.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs on rock ledges, on rocky slopes in woods, in ravines, and on bluffs, often in shaded locations.
Native Missouri wildflower. Often used in native wildflower gardening.
Easy to propagate from its many seeds, this columbine species is a long-lived garden plant that naturalizes and can even be somewhat weedy if you do not deadhead spent flowers. It attracts hummingbirds. It hybridizes readily with other columbines, creating plants with combinations of traits.
Today, columbines are favorites of gardeners, but in the past, Native Americans used these (toxic) plants for various medicinal purposes. Columbine was sometimes used as a love potion; people rubbed the ground seeds on their palms before grasping the hands of their beloved or of people they wished to persuade.
Flowers with such deep nectaries need pollinators with long tongues — enter the hummingbirds! This species of columbine begins blooming about the same time hummingbirds migrate back northward, to our state and north into Canada, in spring. Native to much of eastern North America, eastern red columbine's range almost matches the breeding territory of the ruby-throated hummingbird, its number-one pollinator. Its bloom time matches the hummingbird's northward migration, too.
Other pollinators include butterflies and moths, particularly the hummingbird moth.