Wild Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum)

There is something very special about blue flowers. A single flower of Delphinium carolinianum has tones of bright, gem-stone blue flanked by a violet spur and white whiskers.  The flower spikes light up the rocky glades of Arkansas in spring.

Latin Name/Common Name- Delphinium carolinianum is in the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). The word “delphinium” is derived from Greek, meaning dolphin. It refers to the bud, which has a dolphin-like shape.  The word carolinianum means from Carolina. Of course, today this refers to the mid part of the United States.

Delphium carolinianum4

Note the dolphin-shaped bud at the tip of the flower spike

Bloom Color- On Ozarkedge, the wild larkspur are clear gem-stone blue with violet spurs. The hood may be violet or pale blue to white. A lighter blue version is sometimes seen and is known as Delphinium virescens. This is now considered to be the same or a subspecies of Delphinium carolinianum.  

Delphium carolinianum1

Note the deep violet spur and hood with blue sepals

Delphium carolinianum5

This variation has a softer violet spur, blue sepals and white hood

Description- Delphinium carolinianum is a perennial of 1 to 3 feet in height. The stem is finely pubescent. The finely cut leaves appear alternately on the lower stem.

Delphinium carolinianum16                                                Pubescent stem with finely cut leaf

The stem terminates in a raceme with many flowers. The flowering begins at the base of the stem and proceeds to the tip with many flowers in bloom at once.

Delphium carolinianum2             Each stem is a wand of many flowers opening from base to tip

An individual flower is composed of 5 petal-like sepals and 4 petals. The sepals have rounded edges with a greenish indentation near the tip. The base of the top sepal forms the upwardly tilted spur. A hood is formed by the small upper petals.   The lateral petals are bearded with fine, white whiskers.

Delphinium carolinianum17                                             Soft, white whiskers on the side petals

After blooming, each flower is replaced by a green seed pod composed of three columns, grouped together.  As the seeds ripen, the stem and pods turn light brown and have a papery texture.

Delphium carolinianum11           Unripe green seed pods in columns of three 

Delphium carolinianum10       Within a few weeks, seed pods ripen, dry and turn light brown

Bloom Time- These blue beauties light up the month of May on Ozarkedge. The flowering lasts almost the full month.

Habitat- Delphinium carolinianum grows on rocky, limestone glades in full sun to part shade.

Delphium carolinianum7           Rocky glade at a woodland edge is the typical habitat

What’s Growing Nearby? Although Delphinium carolinianum doesn’t like a lot of competition, she has some neighbors that add to the show. In particular,  Calamintha arkansana (Ozark calamint) provides a beautiful backdrop to the tall spikes of Wild larkspur.

Delphium carolinianum13              Tiny flowers of Ozark calamint provide a fragrant carpet of soft blue at the base of Wild larkspur

Other common neighbors include Glandularia canadensis, Matalea decipiens and Penstemon pallidus.

Penstemon pallidus1Matalea decipiens1Glandularia canadensisPenstemon pallidus          Matalea decipiens        Glandularia canadensis

Endangered List- The USDA Database lists Delphinium carolinianum as Endangered in Florida and Threatened in Kentucky. You can access the Legal Status here.

NatureServe lists it as S1 (Critically Imperiled) in 4 states (llinois, Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina) and S3 (Vulnerable) in Georgia. Much remains to be learned because this lovely flower has not yet been ranked for the majority of states (including Arkansas) that make up its native range.  See below.

NatureServe status Delphinium carolinianum

*NatureServe. 2015. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://explorer.natureserve.org.

Interesting Tidbits- Just as hummingbirds are attracted more to red flowers, bees prefer blue or yellow. The eyes of bees are adapted to see blue, ultraviolet and yellow wavelengths best. Flowers that need bee pollinators feature colors that attract bees. These flowers are often tubular in shape and frequently contain dotted trails or bee guides that lead bees to the nectar. Other flowers that need bees are disk shaped like those in the aster family. These flowers have a wide area for landing allowing bees to crawl from one spot to the next to collect the nectar and pollen.