by Star Seastone, Visitor Services Assistant
Columbines come in many colors, but only the lovely lavender and white variety is Colorado’s designated state flower. Aquilegia caerulea is commonly known as the Colorado columbine or the Rocky Mountain columbine. The scientific name of this beautiful bloom was derived in 1753 by the famous biologist Linneaus, and the common name derives from the Latin word for dove.
In 1891, Colorado school children overwhelmingly voted the Rocky Mountain columbine their favorite flower over the second place cactus. In 1899, a women’s club in Cripple Creek went to work to have this favorite blossom adopted as Colorado’s flower. Senate Bill 261 passed on April 4, 1899, making the designation official.
In 1925, the Colorado General Assembly approved a bill to protect our showy blossom. The law made it the responsibility of each Colorado resident to protect the state flower from needless destruction or waste. The bill established rules about picking and digging the flower and defined penalties for violations of the law.
It is unlawful for any person to pick columbines, gather them or tear them up by the roots when they are growing on any public land. It is also unlawful to pick or gather the flowers on private land without the previous consent of the landowner. Any person who violates any of these provisions may be convicted of a misdemeanor and may consequently be punished by a fine of not less than $5 or more than $50.
You can observe this ornate flower, which is a favorite of hummingbirds as well as school children, all summer long. It is found across the Rocky Mountains from the foothills to the alpine regions. It can grow up to 24″ tall and is commonly found in aspen groves, open forests, meadows, and on mountain slopes. Grow this popular flower in your garden, too. Observe, photograph, or grow them, and always remember to protect them.