Growing on the High Plains Episode
8:01 pm
Wed February 6, 2013

Blue is the Sky, White the Snow, and Yellow the Gold

The Rocky Mountain Columbine was discovered by mountain climber, Edwin James,  ascending Pike's Peak in 1820.  It was officially names the state flower of Colorado in 1899.  Rocky Mountain columbine (Columbine Aquilegia Caerulea) is a beautiful flower with a rich aroma that attracts bees, hummingbirds and butterflies to it's nectar.

The Columbine's name could have been inspired by a number of things.  The Latin word aquila means "Eagle" and could refer to the claw-like spurs at the base of the flower.  It could also come from the Latin word for water collector.  Greek jars were often pointed at the base and buried underground to keep the content cool, the shape resembling the columbine.  The common name could come from the word, columba, the Latin word meaning dove.  If you hold the flower upside down, turn your imagination loose, you could see a tiny ring of doves drinking from a bowl.  It has also been called "the herb wherein the lion doth delight."  Columbines represented the bird of peace in medieval times.  It was believed that lions, at least in paradise,  like to eat it, but then again maybe they were just looking at it upside down, thinking it might taste like a bowl of tiny, tasty doves.    Pioneers called the plants, "Granny's Bonnet."  Visually, it reminded them of bonneted old women along the slopes, nodding their heads, gossiping as the wagon wheels rolled by toward the west. 

Columbines bloom in pastel shades of blue, violet, red, yellow and white.  The blue-violet petals and spurs, a white cup, and yellow center is the color of the Rocky Mountain Columbine, the official state flower.  Blue is a symbol of the sky, white represents snow, and yellow symbolizes Colorado's gold mining history.

A law was enacted in 1925 to protect this rare & delicate flower. The Colorado General Assembly wisely made it illegal to dig or remove the flower from all public lands.  Blossoms and bud gathering is limited to 25 per day.  It also cannot be picked on private land without the consent of the landowner. 

The columbine can live out on the high plains if care is taken to protect it from the intense afternoon sun and the hot, dry winds.  It does best when planted in partial shade with a nice blanket of mulch.  The average live span of the columbine is four to five years.  Plants can be divided during the dormant stage.  Seeds can be saved and planted. 

The Rocky Mountain Columbine also inspired the song, "Where The Columbines Grow," which was adopted as the official Colorado state song in 1915.