Three hundred and twenty known species of wildflowers and native plants can be found in the high desert of Northern New Mexico. One of the most common is the columbine.
Columbines are truly unique-looking flowers and frankly, just look happy. With their dangling bell-like shape and spurs at the back, there is nothing else quite like these perennials. Columbines come in almost every color — blue, orange, pink, purple, red, white, yellow. The most common in this part of the world are the blue, red and yellow species.
Columbine is derived from the Latin word for dove, columbinus. The Latin name of the columbine genus is aquilegia, derived from the word aquilia, meaning eagle, referring to the similarity of the curved spurs of some species to the bird’s talons. “But another explanation,” says Jan Martenson, president of the Taos Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico, “is that the word is derived from ‘aqua’ (water) and ‘legere’ (to collect) referring to the ‘nectar at the base of the spur.’ ”
Aquilegia coerulea is the Latin name of the blue columbine, which is seen most often in alpine and subalpine regions — you can’t miss them in the summer on a hike to Williams Lake in Taos Ski Valley. Also known as Colorado blue columbine, it is the state flower of Colorado. It blooms from June until September and grows from 6-inches to 32-inches tall.
A. chrysantha is the golden columbine. This yellow species is found in damp places up to 11,000 feet in elevation, Martenson says. It blooms from April to September and grows from 12 inches- to 48-inches tall.
The western red columbine (A. elegantula) is sometimes called the shooting star columbine. It can be seen at subalpine elevations and in forests along stream banks, such as along the Italianos Trail in Taos Ski Valley. The western red columbine blooms in early spring into mid-summer. It grows from 10 inches- to 24-inches tall.
Columbines can also be seen along the aptly named Columbine Trail between Questa and Red River.