Colorado’s state flower is the Rocky Mountain white and lavender columbine. The Rocky Mountain columbine was discovered in 1820 by Edwin James while mountain climbing on Pike’s Peak. It was voted as Colorado’s state flower by area school children in 1891. A women’s club in Cripple Creek discovered in 1899, however, that the white and lavender columbine had never officially been designated Colorado’s state flower. On 4 April 1899, the white and lavender columbine was officially adopted as Colorado’s state flower by the Colorado legislature under Senate Bill 261.
The scientific name of Colorado’s state flower is Aquilegia caerulea, adapted from the Latin word aquila, which means “eagle.” This adaptation of the word is symbolic of the columbine’s claw-like spurs. The Rocky Mountain white and lavender columbine is also commonly referred to as the Colorado columbine or the Colorado blue columbine.
Of the more than 70 species of columbine in the world, approximately a third are native to North America. The white and lavender columbine features delicate blue-violet spurs and petals, a yellow center, and a white cup. Colorado’s state flower is said to represent the vast blue skies, the pure white snow, and the dynamic gold mining industry of the state. “Where the Columbine Grow” was adopted as Colorado’s state song in 1915.
The rich fragrance of the white and lavender columbine attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Rocky Mountain white and lavender columbine grows throughout the state and blooms from late spring to early summer. While rare in some areas of Colorado, the flower can be spotted growing along roadways, in Aspen groves, at the edge of forests, and in moist clearings or mountain drainages. It prefers high altitudes and full to partial sun.
Considered rare and endangered, Colorado’s state flower is protected by a law enacted by the Colorado General Assembly in 1925. The law indicates that it is the duty of all citizens of the state of Colorado to protect the rare white and lavender columbine from waste and destruction, and uprooting or digging of the white and lavender columbine is strictly forbidden on public property. Gathering of the blooms, stems, and flower buds is limited to 25 a day. It is also against the law to pick the white and lavender columbine on private property without the consent of the owner. Violators of these laws can face stiff fines and penalties.