Delphinium — Delphinium is a genus of about 250 species of annual, biennial or perennial flowering plants in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae, native throughout the Northern Hemisphere and also on the high mountains of tropical Africa. The common name, shared with the closely related genus Consolida, is Larkspur.
The leaves are deeply lobed with 3-7 toothed, pointed lobes. The main flowering stem is erect, and varies greatly in size between the species, from 10 cm in some alpine species, up to 2 m tall in the larger meadowland species; it is topped by many flowers, varying between purple, blue, red, yellow or white. The flower has five petals which grow together to form a hollow flower with a spur at the end, which gives the plant its name. The seeds are small and shiny black. The plants flower from late spring to late summer, and are pollinated by butterflies and bumble bees. Despite the toxicity, Delphinium species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Dot Moth and Small Angle Shades.
Other names are, lark’s heel (Shakespeare), lark’s claw and knight’s spur. The scientific name is taken from Dioscorides and describes the shape of the bud, which is thought to look like a (rather fat) dolphin.
The Forking Larkspur (Delphinium consolida) prefers chalky loams. It grows wild in cornfields, but has become very rare nowadays. The flowers are commonly purple, but a white variety exists as well.
Baker’s larkspur (Delphinium bakeri) and Yellow larkspur (D. luteum), both native to very restricted areas of California, are highly endangered species.
Many species are cultivated as garden plants, with numerous cultivars having been selected for their denser, more prominent flowers.