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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rare Columbines in Bloom!

Three petite columbines with restricted home ranges are currently in bloom on the Berry Prairie.

Rocky Mountain columbine (Aquilegia saximontana) has the largest flowers of the three, beautiful deep blue, and about an inch and a half across, though the entire plant is barely six inches tall. Rocky Mountain columbine is an alpine and subalpine species, found in the wild in only a few counties of north-central Colorado.  Read an earlier post about Rocky Mountain columbine here.

Rocky Mountain columbine (Aquilegia saximontana)

Equally blue, but smaller, is Jones’ columbine (Aquilegia jonesii). The smallest of all columbines, Jones’ columbine is found on alpine and subalpine ridges and talus from southern Alberta to northern Wyoming, including the Bighorn Mountains.

Jones’ columbine (Aquilegia jonesii)

Besides the size difference (which isn’t great!), these two blue columbines can be distinguished on the Berry Prairie by the shape of their floral spurs. (In the wild, of course, you would never find these two growing together.) Jones’ columbine has short, straight spurs, while those of Rocky Mountain columbine are curved (“hooked” is the botanic term).  Learn more about spurs here!

Hooked spurs is an unusual trait among columbines, but is shared by the third of our flowering columbines—Laramie columbine (Aquilegia laramiensis). This species is endemic to the Laramie Range of eastern Wyoming, where it grows in cracks and crevices of exposed granite.  Read an earlier post that features the Laramie columbine.

Laramie columbine (Aquilegia laramiensis)

Stay tuned for more updates on flowering plants on the Berry Prairie this summer!

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, UW Biodiversity Institute

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