- Full sun to moderate shade (will grow under deciduous trees, especially if they have the option of growing in crevices in rocks)
- Average to rich soil, or deep, gravely soil where their roots can reach for moisture (they do best if seeded, rather than planted, in that type of setting though)
- 12" to 36" (taller in rich soils with lots of lights, shorter in restricted or challenging locations) 8" to 18" spacing
- Ontario Native. Beginner Friendly. Meadow, woodland and forest ecosystems, as well as gardens and rocky sites.
This dainty flower, a perennial favourite (pardon the pun) in my garden and many others, are often short lived as individual plants but will freely re-seed into open spaces if allowed. Filling in gaps is a core trait of this species. They either pop up in open or disturbed areas or occupy cracks in rock faces and gravely patches where there is little competition from other species. I’ve seen them thriving on north west facing rock cuts and in full sun patches of gravel along 400 series highways here in Eastern Ontario, in cracks in Canada shield rock in forests and, of course, in gardens.
They like even moisture but will survive in areas that get dry in the summer, bouncing back in all their glory the following spring. In a garden setting I would suggest either dappled shade or rock garden settings with a gravel mulch, keeping in mind their capacity to seed freely, which could overwhelm tiny alpine plants (pretty much the only type plants that these can and will compete with).
Their foliage emerges early in the spring as delicate burgundy-tinged furls before maturing to a vibrant green. The flowers appear in May and are held well above the mound of foliage, anywhere from 12” tall in exposed locations and lean soils to nearly 3’ tall in rich soil where they are sheltered from the wind by structures or other plants.
The downward facing blooms dangle from the stems, moving a bit with the breeze. After the blooming is complete and the petals fall, the seed pods face up, maturing from green to brown before the five cylinders open to release the small, shiny black seeds as the wind, or the gardener, shakes them loose. T
Like many early blooming species, the foliage of columbines can become a bit tattered after mid summer. They also often host leaf miners, which create pale traceries in the leaves as they feed. If you prefer to not have patches of senescing foliage on display in the mid or late summer, mix these in with other, later blooming species to draw the eye elsewhere. The plants do just fine without any intervention, returning as their lush selves the following spring.
They have been living in my urban yard for a few generations. If memory serves, the great, great grandparent plants came to me from the Fletcher Wildlife Garden native plant sale.