Of all the wildflowers in bloom in Colorado’s outdoors from April to July each year, the columbine is the most revered. Its status as the official State Flower makes it a beautiful emblem of the Centennial State. Those who are lucky enough to spot it should stop to have a sniff of its deep aroma and snap a photo of this Colorado icon. One of the best places to experience the beautiful columbine is arguably on one of Colorado's best wildflower trails: the 11-mile hike from Aspen Snowmass to Crested Butte, where wildflowers line the trail in abundance. If you're looking for something a little shorter, there are also many, many more Colorado hikes that are great for taking in wildflowers.
Here are a few facts about Aquilegia caerulea, or the columbine, to keep in mind while admiring during your hikes and bike rides around Colorado this summer:
Photo: Crested Butte Wildflower Festival
Elected by schoolchildren
The Columbine’s journey to become the Colorado state flower began in 1891 when Colorado school children voted the Rocky Mountain columbine their favorite flower. It won by a landslide – of the 22,316 votes cast, 14,472 went to the Rocky Mountain Columbine.
Protected by law
Think before you pick! In 1925, the General Assembly enacted a law to protect the rare and delicate state flower. The statute made it illegal to uproot the flower on public lands, and the gathering of blossoms and buds is limited to 25 in one day. Columbines may not be picked at all on private land without the consent of the landowner. At the time the law was passed, it was a misdemeanor “punished by a fine of not less than five nor more than fifty dollars.”
Food for butterflies and hummingbirds
The blossom’s unique shape makes it well equipped to attract long-tongued nectar feeders, namely moths and hummingbirds. Columbines and hummingbirds are symbiotic – the hummingbird's slender bill and long tongue enables the bird to reach the flower’s nectar from the base of the spur; in exchange, they act as the Columbine's top pollinator.
Named after eagles and doves
The Latin word aquila (which is the root of the plant’s genus Aquilegia) means "eagle" and refers to the claw-like spurs at the base of the flower. The common name "columbine" comes from the Latin word for "dove", due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.
An indigenous remedy
It is said that the Native Americans of this region used the Columbine as a herbal remedy. They would treat ailments from fever to heart tension and even poison ivy pain with Columbine-infused tea.