Wildflower of the Week: Crimson Columbine

Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

Although we spent last weekend riding around on bikes and sailboats, rather than out in the hills, we are reliably informed that crimson columbine is now coming into bloom. So we’re making it our Wildflower of the Week. A member of the Buttercup Family (the Ranunculaceae), this hummingbird favorite is native to western North America, from Alaska to Baja.

The scientific name, Aquilegia formosa, translates from the Latin as “beautiful eagle,” and it is said that the eagle part of the name (aquila) comes from a supposed resemblance between the pointy spurs that stand upright on top of the flower (containing the flower’s sweet nectar) and an eagle’s talons. How it came to be called beautiful (formosa) requires no explanation.

The nectar was apparently used as candy by some Native people and the flowers are reputed to be edible. But beware! We wouldn’t recommend experimenting with it. Pretty much all the rest of the plant – including the seeds – are very, even perhaps fatally, toxic.

Look for it along the Big Sur Coast and in other favored locations throughout the area.

Crimson columbine growing against a backdrop of sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus) near the Kirk Creek Trailhead on Big Sur’s South Coast.

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