Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

This week’s wildflower is two. Both are columbines— the blue one, Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea), and the red one, Elegant Columbine (Aquilegia elegantula).  Both are in full bloom right now. Elegant C. is blooming at many elevations in the pine woods—7,000 – 10,000 ft.  But Colorado C. is largely limited to higher elevations.  Yesterday we sat on the ski slope just below the top of the Aspen Chair Lift and could see perhaps 1,000 in bloom!  Quite a sight!  Columbines have strange flowers—a small rosette of petals from which long colorful ‘spurs’ extend behind.  These flowers are framed by a larger rosette of colorful sepals.  In most these sepals are large and flare out giving the flower its characteristic shape, but in Elegant C they do not flare giving the flower a long, thin shape. Nevertheless, Elegant C. is a striking and welcome sight in the cool damp woods.  For some reason that escapes me, this species is put into the Buttercup Family.  This is exceedingly strange since its seed making apparatus is quite different from that of Ranunculus (buttercup).  But the ‘wise’ people say these are buttercups so who am I to argue.

Colorado Columbine - Photo by Chick Keller
Colorado Columbine – Photo by Chick Keller

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