Late Spring Flowers for High Elevations

by Jun 28, 2024Education43 comments

Golden Columbine
As a born and raised Texan, I’ve had quite an adjustment getting used to the elevation and climate here in Flagstaff. I’ve been amazed by watching the progression of flowers throughout the season.

The two flowers that stick out every June are the golden columbines (Aquilegia chrysantha) and the rocky mountain penstemons (Penstemon strictus). These two plants bloom at the same time, however they grow in very different environments. 

Columbines grow where there is moisture in the soil, and don’t mind some shade. On hikes you may see columbines growing, and that usually means that there is water present in the soil. There are many species of columbines to choose from, with colors ranging from yellow to blue! 

Golden Columbine blooming at The Arb.
Golden Columbine
(Aquilegia chrysantha)
Plant after being fed on by critters
Rocky Mountain Penstemons
(Penstemon structus)

On the other hand, rocky mountain penstemons are seen blooming in full sun and parched earth. It’s been amazing to see them growing in the driest of places – and they really shine this time of year when perhaps not much else is able to bloom without the added water. To identify a penstemon, look for opposite leaves and tubular flowers with five stamen. Even though penstemons do well in dry soils, they also thrive in irrigated gardens as long as the soil drainage is good (no wet feet, please!). 

At the Arboretum, we have a rocky mountain penstemon growing right next to the columbines. Planting these two plants is a handy trick for when you want some late spring color in your gardens, but the weather is too harsh for more delicate flowers to bloom. Penstemons and columbines take the reins from early spring catmint, dandelions, and phlox to take you into yet another layer of spring in your high elevation garden.

Sarah Armanovs is the Gardens Manager at The Arboretum at Flagstaff.

Sarah Armanovs