Crimson columbine is a bizarre confection of a flower. With its bright red turrets and awnings, and a dangling bouquet of long yellow stamens, Aquilegia formosa is one of the most sculptural flowers around. It looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright just to grow in the gardens of the Marin Civic Center – though it doesn’t, as far as I know. Believe it or not, this extravagant bloom is in the same family (Ranunculaceae) as the simple buttercup!
These columbine prefer moist spots and stream banks, where you can find their flaming blossoms high above an airy nest of deeply lobed leaves. In general, the plants grow one to three feet tall, and they are found in all the western states. I saw the beauties photographed here on the Concrete Pipe Trail on the Marin Municipal Water District lands. This is an unpaved access road with a steep bank running along one side for much of its length, and it’s a great spot for seeing a diverse collection of spring flowers.