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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Laramie Columbine: Gem of the Gem City

Laramie columbine is the most recently blooming species on the Berry Prairie!

Laramie columbine - now blooming on the Berry Prairie - is a petite gem, whose native distribution is restricted to the Laramie Range of Albany and Converse counties. Aquilegia laramiensis was first collected by Aven Nelson in 1895 in the northern part of the Range, and a few years later much farther to the south, not too far from Laramie. Seventy years passed before botanists once again took up the search, relocating the original sites, and filling in some gaps. 

Yet, Laramie columbine remains rare and elusive. Restricted to granite outcrops (like below), it hides in crevices and beneath ledges, lurking in cool and shaded microsites, usually far from well-travelled paths. As of 2012, it was known from 49 sites, most with fewer than 100 plants, but, due to the ruggedness of the area, but it is difficult to get complete counts across rocky outcrops. 

Photo by Dennis Horning

Both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have designated Laramie columbine as a sensitive species, meaning that they attempt to manage land in a way that protects the species. Because of its remote and rugged habitat, the populations are not generally threatened by changes in land use. 

Perhaps the biggest threat to this gem is its desirability to gardeners, who may remove specimens for personal use. Because of the small numbers of individuals in some populations, the removal of even a few plants is potentially devastating to the entire population. Fortunately, plants are sometimes available for purchase through commercial growers, or, you can do like we did, and buy seeds to grow this lovely little columbine yourself. 

Photo by Bonnie Heidel

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center


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