Photo of columbine flower closeup
Noppadol Paothong

Ranunculaceae (crowfoots; buttercups)


Herbaceous, perennial plants of woodlands, often hanging from cliffs. Flowers single on long stems, with a distinctive shape, the 5 petals forming elongate, hollow, red spurs containing nectar; the 5 sepals are leaflike, attached between the petals, light yellow. The numerous stamens extend below the flower. Blooms April–July. Leaves: a few basal, the others cauline (along the stem), both on long petioles, 3-divided with deep lobes, bluish green.


Height: to 2 feet.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs on rock ledges, on rocky slopes in woods, in ravines, and on bluffs, often in shaded locations. Easy to propagate from its many seeds, this columbine is a long-lived garden plant that naturalizes and can even be somewhat weedy if you do not deadhead spent flowers. It attracts hummingbirds. It hybridizes readily with other columbines, creating plants with combinations of traits.

image of Columbine distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, except in the Southeast Lowlands.

Human connections

Today, columbines are favorites of gardeners, but in the past, Native Americans used these (toxic!) plants for various medicinal purposes. Some used them as a love potion, rubbing the ground seeds on their palms before grasping the hands of their beloved or of people they wished to persuade.

Ecosystem connections

Flowers with such deep nectaries need pollinators with long tongues—enter the hummingbirds! Columbines begin blooming about the same time hummingbirds migrate back to our state in spring. Other pollinators include butterflies and moths, particularly the hummingbird moth.