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Species aquilegias


By AndrewR


There is often a gap in the garden between the last of the tulips and early perennials, so anything that flowers in this window is very welcome.

Aquilegias fill this period and come in a large range of colours – blue, purple, white, red, maroon, pink, and yellow. Many are forms or cultivated varieties of aquilegia vulgaris, a variable species found through most of Europe. But there are around 100 other species, all from the northern hemisphere, ranging in size from alpines to around three feet in height. Anyone who has grown aquilegias knows how ready they are to self seed; they are also highly promiscuous, so sourcing a species and keeping it ‘pure’ can be difficult.

I have been trying to grow some of these other species in the garden and, by planting them well apart, I hope to keep each of them true by ruthlessly removing any that aren’t what they should be. Some I have bought as plants, but most have been grown from seed. But even this is not foolproof, and two seed strains have obviously been contaminated at the seller’s premises.

Aquilegia atrovinosa
I first saw this in the wild on a trip to Kazakhstan several years ago, growing a couple of feet tall on a grassy hillside. As it hailed from behind the Iron Curtain, it wasn’t available in the west until fairly recently, and even then only from a few specialist suppliers

Aquilegia atrata has probably the darkest flowers of the family. It is typically around three feet tall

Aquilegia buergeriana var oxysepala or A. oxysepala. This keeps swapping between its own species or a variety of another, which is a shame as the name changes might dissuade you from growing it. The colour combination is distinctive and again, a couple of feet is the usual height

Aquilegia canadensis is one of several species from North America with red and yellow flowers. This one is distinctive as they look a bit pinched. Another two footer, although there is a dwarfer form A. c. ‘Nana’ fairly readily available as well

Aquilegia coerulea is another American (it is the national flower of Montana), growing two to three feet tall. Although most aquilegias produce a lot of seed, this one seems to be manage prodigious amounts

Aquilegia kurdistanica is another rare one, probably only available to grow from seed. It is shorter, at one and a half to two feet in height

Aquilegia olympica (not to be confused with the Olympica strain) is also a couple of feet tall. It grows in Iran and northern Turkey as well as southern Russia

Aquilegia viridiflora can be bought as plants from specialist suppliers, but like all in the family, is short lived. It can reach two feet but is usually shorter. This is sometimes sold with the name ‘Chocolate Soldier’, but this is just a natural form, not a cultivated variety

Semiaquilegia ecalcarata or A. ecalcarata, is an aquilegia with no spurs behind the flowers. Again, this is usually less than two feet high

I’m on the lookout for other species as well, so there may some more aquilegia seedlings overwintering in the cold frame before too long,

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Obviously a day for aquilegias. I think you have some beauties there and admire your knowledge. The oxysepala is desirable and all are covetable.

2 Jun, 2021


Good to see you blogging on here again, Andrew. Love the colouring of A. oxysepala.

2 Jun, 2021


welcome back Andrew, you have been missed.
lovely informative blog as usual. Beautiful species here especially A oxysepal.a

I need to see if my Semiaquilegia has flowered, forgot about that.

2 Jun, 2021


Lovely collection of aquilegia!

4 Jun, 2021


Hello Andrew, it's good to see you again. You have some stunning Aquilegias in your garden and I was reminded of A. 'Tequila Sunrise' which I had for many years when I saw your photo of A.canadensis from North America. Now I'm hankering for another as it bloomed for such a long time!

5 Jun, 2021

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