Let’s hear it for the school children of Colorado! Twice they have influenced the legislature in naming official state symbols. The Rocky Mountain Columbine began its road to becoming the state flower in1891 as it was voted overwhelming the favorite flower of Colorado’s school children. The white and lavender Columbine, Aquilegia caerulea or coerulea, was adopted as the official state flower on April 4, 1899 by an act of the General Assembly.
Discovered in 1820 on Pike's Peak by mountain climber Edwin James, the columbine was also named and described by him. The two spelling confusions are due to his using caerulea and coerulea in identifying specimens. The Latin word aquila means "Eagle" and refers to the claw-like spurs at the base of the flower. Coerulea comes from the Latin for blue; and the common name, columbine, comes from the Latin for “dove”, as the inverted flower resembles five doves clustered together.
Columbine blooms in pastel shades of blue, violet, red, yellow and white. There are 70 species of columbine in the world and about one third are native to North America. Colorado’s state flower variety has blue-violet petals and spurs, a white cup and yellow center. Blue symbolizes the sky, white represents snow, and yellow symbolizes Colorado's gold mining history.
The Rocky Mountain Columbine because of its popularity was threatened by collectors who wanted it for rock gardens. In 1925 a law was enacted by the Colorado General Assembly that made it illegal to uproot the flower on public lands and limited the gathering of blossoms and buds to help protect it.
More school children were involved in the official adoption of the Claret Cup Cactus as Colorado's official state cactus. Four girls from Douglas County Girl Scout Troop 2518, in Castle Rock, earned a leadership award for their efforts.
The girls originally proposed that the Kingcup Cactus be named the official cactus of the state but the State Senate substituted "Claret Cup Cactus" for "Kingcup Cactus" as both are common names for the cactus. The Claret Cup Cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus , became the official state cactus of Colorado when Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill No. 14-1024 at a signing ceremony at the State Capitol on March 07, 2014.
Rocky Mountain Columbine blooms throughout the summer from the foothills to the alpine zones in the Central Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The Claret Cup Cactus blooms by early April on the Southern and Western slopes of Colorado. Of all the wildflowers that bloom in Colorado’s outdoors from April to July each year, the Columbine is perhaps the most beloved. Its status as the official State Flower makes it a beautiful emblem of the Centennial State. Those who are lucky enough to spot it should stop and sniff its deep aroma and snap a photo of this Colorado icon. The Claret Cup Cactus with its rich red hue is equally worthy of attention and delight.
Identifying Colorado’s Wildflowers is made easy with the new 2014 award-winning Rocky Mountain Wildflower Field Guide. This pocket-sized guide features over 225 wildflowers including two varieties of columbine with professional photographs, common, scientific, and family names and descriptions. It is available at www.HighCountryArtworks.com and through Amazon for only $11.95. A handy E-book is also available for all E-reader formats.