Aquilegia canadensis Little Lanterns banner

Plant of the Month June 2024

GENERAL INFORMATION: Aquilegias, or Columbines are members of the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family) and are found across the Northern Hemisphere. 20 or more of the perhaps 130 species are found in Western North America. These species mostly have larger flowers, with longer spurs than the Old World species. Many North American species have red and/or yellow petals, as well as blues, whites and purples.

Common Name: Little Lantern Columbine, Eastern Red Columbine.

Other forms: Aquilegia canadensis ‘Nana’ - shorter, Aquilegia canadensis ‘Corbett’ - taller, with pale yellow flowers.

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Aquilegia canadensis 'Little Lanterns'.

Life Cycle: Herbaceous perennial, forming a bushy clump, usually short lived. Self seeds.

Height: 25-30 cm.

Bloom Time: Late May through June. Dead heading will produce a second flowering.

Flower Colour & Size:  The  4 cm flowers are down-facing, with five bright red sepals alternating with five spurred tubular yellow petals which become red and deepen in colour as the tube narrows. These petals are about 3 cm long. Nectar is produced in the curled tip. Numerous yellow stamens surround five long beaked follicles. When ripe, these split open longitudinally releasing many black seeds. 

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Aquilegia canadensis 'Little Lanterns' - flower structure.

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Aquilegia canadensis 'Little Lanterns' follicles and one spured petal.

Leaves: Delicate, light green biternate lobed leaves up to 15 cm long. (Ternate - compound leaves divided into 3. Biternate another 3-way split resulting in 9 leaflets.)

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Aquilegia canadensis 'Little Lanterns' - compound leaf.

Range: Native to North America, east of the Rocky Mountains. Aquilegia canadensis is the only species that grows wild in the east.

Habitat: Woodland edges, rocky places.


Plant: In rock gardens, edges of paths or containers.

Light: Full sun to part shade.

Soil:  Most well drained soils.

Water: Average moisture. Do not allow the plants to dry out.

USDA Hardiness: Zones 3-8.

Companion planting: Other rock garden and woodland plants.

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Aquilegia canadensis 'Little Lanterns' companion planting.

 Propagation: Best by seed: Sow @ 4°C for 3 weeks, then place at 20°C. Root cuttings and separation of plants are possible.

Pollinators: Pollinated by hummingbirds, bumblebees and long-tongued insects. Short tongued Insects may cut a hole in the spurs! Larval food for the Columbine Duskywing Butterfly (Erynnis lucillius).

Pests and Diseases: Few pests. Resistant to Columbine leaf miner.

Native Alternatives: The wild form is taller, more loosely branched and with slightly paler coloured petals.



Text and images supplied by Anna Leggatt (Toronto Master Gardener)