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Aquilegia elegantula

    Aquilegia species hybridize and are, in the words of the Flora of North America, "difficult to define adequately.  Some of the variability is because of introgressive hybridization.  Even distantly related species of Columbine are often freely interfertile, and many cases of natural hybridization and introgression are known from North America."

    This page shows Aquilegia elegantula, which occurs in the mountains throughout the Four Corners area.  This species does occasionally hybridize with Aquilegia coerulea (Colorado Columbine).  The resulting hybrid shows interesting characteristics of both plants.

Aquilegia elegantula
Aquilegia elegantula (Shooting Star Columbine)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, rocks. Spring, summer.
Road below Spiller/Helmet Ridge, June 22, 2009.

Shooting Star Columbine lacks the huge, showy sepals that fan out behind Aquilegia coerulea (Colorado Columbine) petals and it does not usually grow in the dense showy clusters of numerous plants and flowering stems that characterize Colorado Columbine, but Shooting Star Columbine is still a strikingly beautiful plant and flower. It is quite common in open woods where it can go unnoticed in the dense greenery around it, but on rock ledges and other open areas, it is obvious and very picturesque. Flowers appear early in the spring at lower elevations and can be found throughout the mountain growing season.

Edward Greene described this plant in 1899 from a specimen collected in 1898 by Baker, Earle, and Tracy in "Slide Rock Canyon, near Mancos, Colorado". (Quotation from A Utah Flora.)

Aquilegia elegantula

Aquilegia elegantula

Aquilegia elegantula (Shooting Star Columbine)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, rocks. Spring, summer.
Road below Spiller/Helmet Ridge, June 22, 2009 and Ryman Creek Trail, May 29, 2012.

The spurs present on most Aquilegia flowers are unique and give rise to its scientific and common names. Almost all sources, including botanical Latin expert William Stearn, indicate that the word "Aquilegia" is derived from the Latin "Aquila" ("Eagle"). "Aquilegia" would then refer to the talons of an Eagle and their similarity to the spurs of the flower. William Weber, however, indicates that the word is derived from "aqua" ("water") and "legere" ("to collect") referring to the "nectar at the base of the spur".

Aquilegia elegantula

Aquilegia elegantula

Aquilegia elegantula (Shooting Star Columbine)
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, rocks. Spring, summer.
Bear Creek Trail, June 14, 2005.

Flowers are streamlined elegance.

Notice that both the four straight styles and the surrounding numerous stamens (with their yellow anther sacs) protrude beyond the sepals and petals. 

The petals of Aquilegia elegantula are spurred, as they are in the famous Colorado Columbine shown below.

The sepals of Aquilegia elegantula are much smaller than those of Aquilegia coerulea, oval-shaped, and parallel to the spurs. In the Colorado Columbine shown below, the sepals are flared out away from the spurs. 

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America


State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Questionable presence

Range map for Aquilegia elegantula