EAGLE COUNTY — The columbine was first discovered on Pike’s Peak in 1820 by Edwin James on the first recorded climb of that mountain. James was serving as a botanist and geologist on Major Stephen Harriman Long’s expedition into the Rocky Mountains.
The Rocky Mountain columbine was designated the official state flower of Colorado in 1899. It was selected through a vote by Colorado’s school children. The reasoning was that blue symbolized of the sky, white represented the snow and yellow served to commemorate Colorado’s gold mining history. “Where the Columbines Grow” is one of the two official state songs of Colorado. It was written and composed by A.J. Fynn, and was adopted on May 8, 1915.
In 1925, the Colorado General Assembly passed a law to protect this beautiful and delicate flower. Many people believe it is against the law to pick or uproot the flower on public lands. However, that law actually states that a person may gather up to 25 blossoms and buds in one day. Picking on private land is illegal without the consent of the landowner. All the same, it is best to leave them alone so that others may enjoy them. Buy the seeds in a seed store and plant your own in your garden.
The scientific name of this hardy perennial is Aquilegia caerulea. It is in the buttercup family. Aquilegia is Latin for eagle (aquila), because the flower petals resemble an eagle’s claw and caerulea means blue-colored. There is also a rare alpine or dwarf blue columbine the size of a dime.