Dwarf Red Columbine
Skirting the rocks at the forest edge
With a running flame from ledge to ledge,
Or swaying deeper in shadowy glooms,
A smoldering fire in her dusky blooms;
Bronzed and molded by wind and sun,
Maddening, gladdening every one
With a gypsy beauty full and fine,--
A health to the crimson columbine!
-Elaine Goodale Eastman
A recent introduction that reached our Northwest markets in 2002, 'Little Lanterns' is a variant form of Aquilegia canadensis probably of garden origin, discovered among cultivated plants without a known wild origin.
'Little Lanterns' is a dwarf American Columbine (aka Canadian Columbine), reaching eight to ten inches height including the flower stems, which is about half the height of the species.
Its pint-sized brilliantly red spurred flowers face downward, not entirely hiding their yellow corolla. The dangly flowers really do look like fiery wee lanterns. Well before they go to seed, the hanging lanterns begin to bend upward, more fully revealing their stamens.
Small yet showy when in full bloom May through June, it likes a bit more sun than is usual for A. vulgaris, but will accept partial shade. Like the majority of columbines, it self-seeds willfully.
We don't see leafminers in our gardens, but 'Little Lanterns' is reportedly more resistant to their labors than are columbine hybrids. Cold-hardy to zone 3, but not fond of warmer zones, the natural form grows wild as far north as Nova Scotia. In Zone 8, it can die back in summer unless the soil is kept evenly moist, but if it never dries out, it will have a continued ferny presence in summer, lasting until early autumn.
Ours was planted in 2003 between two dwarf species-rhododendrons not too distant from the base of a large Western Azalea. In this location it gets good afternoon sun, & we expect it to naturalize & spread, while remaining little enough it will never obscure the dwarf rhodies.
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