Columbine, herbaceous plant (genus Aquilegia) of buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). The generic name derives from Latin aquila, "eagle," common name from Latin columba, "dove." Nearly all of the 70 known species are native to the Northern Hemisphere, 5 to Canada. A. brevistyla ranges from western Canada to Ontario; A. flavescens (yellow columbine), A. formosa (Sitka columbine) and A. jonesii are native to the Rocky Mountains; A. canadensis (wild columbine) extends east from Saskatchewan. Leaves are divided into 1-3 leaflets, each in 3 parts.

The most distinctive feature of the nodding flower is the hornlike spur projecting backwards from each of the 5 petals. Columbines, a popular ornamental cultivated for centuries, produce variable forms when grown from seed. Flowers (predominantly blue, lavender, red, yellow, white or a combination) were once used to garnish food and as medicine, until overdoses proved fatal. A. canadensis was used by North American Indians for intestinal disorders, to sweeten tobacco and as an aphrodisiac.

See also Aboriginal Uses of Plants; Poisonous plants.