“The Columbines are in bloom!” I enthusiastically shared with my friend Nancy. Another friend of ours walked by, making a face. How could someone take affront over Colorado’s state flower? I quizzically turned to her, “What’s wrong?”
“When I hear the word Columbine, all I can think of is the terrible shooting at the high school.”
Turns out the woman was from California and had only been living here a few months. She had never even seen the wildflower for which the high school had been named. It saddened me to think that is one of my favorite wildflowers that is so stunning and instantly brings a smile to my face had become synonymous with death and tragedy. Such is the world we live in.
Just last evening, we took a drive up to an old mining settlement near the Continental Divide, west of Nederland. As we walked an old gravel mining road with the dogs, we spied huge patches of blue and white dotting the meadows — the lovely Columbines are in bloom.
The Columbine was designated as the state flower in 1899 by a vote of schoolchildren in the state. While there are many varieties and coloration of Columbine, the flower native to Colorado is distinctive for its blue petals on the outside and it white architectural center. Its scientific name is Aquilegia caerulea, the latin name Aquila referring to the blue spurs coming off the base of the flower. Even the colors of our Rocky Mountain Columbine are deemed to have special significance here with the blue petals representing our blue skies, the white representing the snowy mountains, and the gold in the middle representing our gold mining history.
Rocky Mountain Columbine is considered a threatened species due to its popularity with collectors who seek it for rock gardens. For that reason, the Colorado legislature passed a law in 1925 making it illegal to uproot Columbine on public lands and limiting the picking of the flowers. You can’t even pick Columbine flowers on private lands without the express consent of the property owner.
I for one am grateful for the protections of our state flower. Seeing the first Columbines of summer blooming this past week brought a special piece of joy and a smile to my face. I want others, whether they live here or are visiting to experience that same sort of wonder.