The Aquilegies

The Aquilegies

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The columbines

Aquilegia, commonly called Columbine, or even a dancer, is a perennial plant; there are many species of this plant belonging to the genus of ranunculaceae, as there are aquilegias throughout the northern hemisphere, from Europe to North America, from Asia to Africa. In Europe, the most widespread species in nature are Aquilegia vulgaris, and columbine Alpine; from these species the first hybrids were produced, which rapidly increased in number with the introduction of species originating in North America.
The columbines they are very fertile plants, which tend to self sow and self hybridize, for this reason, many of the commonly cultivated varieties are of horticultural origin, and not produced by "forced" hybridization. The characteristic that unites all species and varieties is certainly the shape of the flowers, characterized by a spur on the back of each single petal; depending on the species the flowers take on different colors, and bell-shaped or more or less elongated shapes.
In Europe in particular various forms of are cultivated Aquilegia vulgaris; among the most appreciated hybrids we can mention those with double flowers, very particular, or the series of hybrids called "Nora Barlow" that vaguely resemble small dark-colored clematis; also some type species are cultivated, such as flabellata columbine, which presents plants with a fairly compact development, or columbine chrysanta, with golden yellow flowers.
The columbines they are perennial herbaceous plants, which completely lose the aerial part in the cold months; the foliage sprouts directly from the ground at the beginning of spring, it is large, and constitutes a round head; the leaves are finely divided, very elegant and decorative, and have a green-gray color. The flowers sprout in late spring, with species that prefer the months of April and May, and others that begin to bloom only with very high nocturnal minimums. Most species and varieties produce the flowers gathered on thin erect stems, well branched. After the plants have gone to seed, they tend to stop flowering, which is why it is advisable to remove the withered flowers.


As with most perennials, even the doves do not require much care, especially in the years following the implant; generally they tend to self hybridize and to sow cars; for this reason they are particularly suitable for gardens in a disorderly and informal style, and they adapt a little less in gardens constructed with rigor and perfect order. They prefer to receive at least a few hours of direct sunlight, especially in the cooler hours of the day; they tolerate short periods of drought and direct sun, but if these conditions last long, plants tend to suffer a lot; for this reason they are usually placed next to the clematis, or in a place where they can have their feet in the shade and the stems in the sun.
In fact, they love to enjoy fresh and moist soil; these conditions can be obtained either by guaranteeing a certain shade, or by watering with great regularity; but since they do not like water stagnations and excessive watering, they prefer to place them in a semi-shaded place. They are rustic plants, which do not suffer from frosts, even if intense and prolonged; therefore the shading of the ground in which they are placed can also be present during the winter. They do not like the excesses of water in the ground, or stagnation; if they have recently settled down they take a few months to adapt to the soil, and therefore it is advisable to regularly water the plants just buried, waiting, however, for the soil to dry completely. In the following years, the plants placed in the ground, can easily settle for the rains. When we see, at the end of winter, the first leaves emerge from the ground, we spread around the plants a slow release granular fertilizer, which will guarantee the right amount of mineral salts in the soil over the months.

Aquilegia in short
Family Ranunculaceae
Gender Aquilegia
Type of plant From flowers
Origin Europe, North America
Vegetation Lively
Foliage caduco
Habit erected
Use Balcony or terrace, driveway borders, rock garden, flowers
Height at maturity From 30 cm to 1 m depending on the variety
Growth rate Normal
Diseases and pests Diseases and pests
Temperature Resists heat and cold

Characteristics of the Aquilegia

Aquilegia is an evergreen herbaceous plant with colorful flowers, the species of which are widespread in the temperate zones of Europe, Asia and America. The flowers attract attention for bright colors and for the elegant and noble appearance similar to orchids. The aquilegia embellishes a balcony or a corner of the garden, and makes a fine show of itself in rocky gardens or in borders of flowerbeds reviving the evergreen hedges with a touch of color. It is also widely used as a cut plant.
The diffusion of the aquilegia is due to the singular inflorescence placed at the end of curved peduncles, with colors ranging from red to white, to golden yellow, from blue to violet. Delicate flowers with ever-changing and unusual shapes lend themselves to composing bouquets. The leaves are usually trilobed with an intense green color. The plants do not have a long life span, but thanks to the great ability to multiply it is extremely easy to cultivate them.

Variety of Aquilegia

The genus Aquilegia includes about 70 species, some of which grow spontaneously in meadows and woods.
THE'aquilegia vulgaris or common Aquilegia or gardens is native to Europe and is one of the most widespread species. It is present in the Italian territory, especially in the Alpine and Apennine regions. High up to 1 m, it has an erect stem and blue-violet flowers. The leaves are trilobed of an intense green.
THE'alpine columbine with bright blue flowers it grows spontaneously in the Alps, at altitudes ranging from 1500 to 2500 m. It is possible to see it frequently near the mountain woods. Numerous varieties exist of this species thanks to the easy hybridization process.
THE'aquilegia caerulea, native to North America, is up to 60-70 m high. The flowers are particularly beautiful, with colors ranging from light blue to blue, and sometimes the corolla is two-colored (blue and white). It can be exposed to the sun or grow in partial shade. It easily hybridizes, but from reproduction through seeds, we will obtain species that do not always faithfully present the characters of the original specimens.
THE'flabellata columbine, originally from Japan, is a species that rarely exceeds 30 cm in height, so it is suitable for cultivation in pots. It has leaves with blue reflections, and often two-colored flowers in shades of white and blue. It blooms from late spring to summer.
THE'aquilegia canadensis, native to North America. He prefers half shade. It has light green leaves similar to those of ferns and bicolor yellow and deep red flowers that bloom from April to July. It can reach 40-50 cm in height. It is suitable to be cultivated in pots.

The cultivation of aquilegia


Maintenance Low
Exposure Sun, half-shade, shadow
Ground Sandy, normal or rich in humus, well drained
Cleaning / Pruning Elimination of the branches that have bloomed
Water needs Average
Soil moisture Well drained / moist soil
Composting Complete manure / fertilizer
Multiplication For sowing in spring, by division of the head in autumn

How to cultivate aquilegia

The Aquilegia plant requires very little care. However it is necessary that the soil is fresh, well drained and rich in humus. If it finds the ideal place, it is easily multiplied even in unusual places in the garden, between the walls or in paved walkways.
Many species of aquilegia prefer a cool and shady spot, but the common aquilegia also grows in sunny places with a light and drained soil, but not too dry. If it is rather dry, it is necessary to keep the soil moist with regular waterings.
The columbines can be planted in isolated groups in any place of a garden, or arranged to form spots or borders of a driveway, at the foot of plants or in rocky gardens.
Plant them in groups and associate them with other plants with decorative foliage (hosta) to emphasize both the flowers and the foliage. Or plant them next to other perennials that bloom simultaneously, such as the primrose
To favor a prolonged flowering, cut the stems with the flowers now withered at ground level. Also thin out the leaves so that they remain healthy and are not threatened by oidium.


These plants tend to self-sow, but very often belonging to hybrid varieties, it is not easy to know in advance what the flowers of the seed-sprouting plant will be; for this reason it is generally preferred to divide the tufts of aquilegia, or to buy already selected seeds. Unfortunately these plants do not like transplants, so if we want to divide a head, we will have to do it in late summer, hoping that the months that separate us from winter will allow the new plants produced to produce a good root system and to prepare for the flowering of the next year. Frequently, however, it happens that the plants produced by division of the tufts have a not very rich flowering during the first year of vegetation. Sowing is generally practiced as soon as the seeds are ripe, or even in late summer. If we wait for the following spring to sow, we will have a very slow development of the plants, which therefore will hardly bloom during their first year of life. Plants sown in summer are kept in pots until the following year, when they are moved to full ground at the end of flowering. The seeds of aquilegia are used to live in the soil for months before sprouting, so if we want to speed up the germination, we will have to keep them in the refrigerator for at least four weeks, place them for a few hours in water, and only then sow them, in a mixture of sand and peat, which must be kept moist and cool.

The informal garden

Many of the flowerbeds to which we are accustomed in the gardens is built thinking of a fixed or well-ordered scheme, very different from the one that can be had in nature; informal gardens are not very widespread, with an almost "natural" appearance, although this style of garden is known to spread more and more. The doves are perfectly suited to a garden of this type, let alone peacefully. However, it happens that over many years, the very particular varieties of aquilegia give way to those produced by the seeds of less refined varieties; So it may happen that in the space of a decade our “Nora Barlow” aquilegia spot is supplanted by species more similar to vulgare, born from seed. For this reason, in the informal garden we can decide to let our plants over the years tend to "change" the flower; or we can periodically divide the tufts of doves from the particular flower, so as to increase the number of plants with notable flowers. Often then, it happens that over the years, the plants of very strange or decorative varieties tend to bloom less than the most common varieties; for this reason, the division of the clumps is particularly recommended, in order to constantly rejuvenate the plants. As an aquilegia dug up and divided, it will tend to produce so many flowers the following year, the ideal consists in dividing the various tufts in rotation, so that each of them remains at home for at least 4-5 years.


The remarkable resistance of the aquilegia makes it suitable both for a sunny position and for shade.
Plant them in September or from March to April, when there is no risk of frost. Before planting, work the ground of the flowerbed and add sufficient organic supply, for example of compost.
The columbines can be planted in pots or in planters. Some smaller species lend themselves more to being planted in pots, for example those belonging to the variety Aquilegia flabellata. Naturally it is necessary to have the foresight to progressively increase the size of the vase.
If planted in the ground, the plants must be placed at a distance of 20-25 cm from each other.
If you want to know the color of the flowers, you will have to wait until April, when the flowering begins.
The columbines are not very long-lived and have an average life of 5 years, therefore they must be renewed periodically.
It prefers a well-drained soil, light and sandy, rich in organic substance and not too dry.

Exposure and Temperature Aquilegia

In pot or in the open ground, the ideal situation is exposure to sunlight at least a few hours a day, but the aquilegia resists even in partial shade.
Aquilegia grows spontaneously in some alpine and pre-Alpine areas as it does not fear the cold. It generally prefers cool areas, but sunny a few hours a day. In winter it is advisable to provide a mulch composed of dry foliage to anticipate the spring vegetative growth.

Propagation of Aquilegia

Aquilegia propagation can take place by seed or by dividing the heads.
By seed
You can sow them in open ground in autumn, but you have to cover them, or in spring, when the temperature is above 120 degrees. You will have to wait a few months to see the seedlings tick. If the sowing is done in the spring, you can plant the seedlings in the fall. If, on the other hand, you sow the eagles in autumn, you will have to wait for spring to see the seedlings tick. When the seedlings have at least three leaves, they can be transplanted.
If you prefer to sow them in a tray, prepare porous, sandy and moist soil. To make the seedlings snack faster, place the seeds in the lower section of the fridge, as they need "vernalization", that is to be exposed to low temperatures equivalent to winter ones to become active.
If you plant the seeds directly in a planter, make sure the soil is well drained.
With the reproduction by seed, you will have to wait for the flowering to know the color that the flowers of your plants will have.
It is also possible to take advantage of spontaneous reproduction as the seeds fall to the ground and the seedlings are born spontaneously.
By division
Sometimes the division of the head is also practiced, in autumn or spring, but the outcome is uncertain because the roots are fragile and the plant reacts badly to the shocks.

Aquilegia fertilization

We recommend the use of a complete fertilizer during the flowering period or the manure before winter. Spread the manure around the plants incorporating it to the ground so as to favor the spring vegetative recovery.


Cut the flowering branches as the flowers wither: the cut will favor the appearance of other flowers. If some leaves are affected by powdery mildew, eliminate them to prevent the spread of the disease. If the entire plant is infected, it will be necessary to eradicate it.

The calendar of the Aquilegia


March-April / September-October
Planting Spring (March, April), autumn (September-October)
Flowering April, May, June, July (depending on the species)

Pests and diseases

Aquilegia is a rather resistant plant that is rarely attacked by pests or diseases. Although not very frequently, the aquilegia can be affected by oidium, a disease caused by a fungus that manifests itself with gray-whitish spots on the leaves, which gradually turn yellow, and finally fall. To avoid the onset of the disease, it is advisable not to water the leaves especially in summer and to periodically remove the diseased leaves. Don't worry because they will grow again with renewed vigor. Use fungicides for treatment.
Among the parasites that can threaten the health of the aquilegia are the slugs. Their presence is signaled by a thin silvery strip that they leave on the leaves. The slugs can be removed manually or biologically using baits.


Not only the flowers, but also the stems of the eagles contain different substances toxic to the body. Furthermore, latex causes skin irritation. In the past, use was made of aquilegia due to its antiseptic, depurative and calming properties, but its use has progressively diminished due to the presence of toxic substances.

The Aquilegies: Hybrid species

The columbines tend to interbreed with extreme ease: from this derives a differentiation of shapes and colors, which disappoints those who aim to obtain an identical variety with the propagation process, but it is a real pleasure for those who enjoy having flowerbeds with flowers with unexpected colors and shapes.

  • Columbine

    The genus of plants called Aquilegia includes different interesting species and varieties of perennials, evergreens or fog

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