Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne)

When I think of my favorite color, Delphinium tricorne comes to mind- intense blue violet, dark and vibrant. The first time I saw these flowers, it was love at first site. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Latin Name/Common Name- Delphinium tricorne is in the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). The word “delphinium” is derived from Greek, meaning dolphin. It refers to the shape of the bud, which, with imagination, could resemble a dolphin. Tricorne means “three horned” and refers to the  three pointed seed pod.

Bud with “dolphin” shape

Common names include Dwarf Larkspur, Spring Larkspur, and Rock larkspur. There are other larkspurs that are native to the same range. On Ozarkedge, Delphinium carolinianum or Prairie larkspur is a taller relative that blooms later in the season.

Delphinium carolinianum is a relative that blooms later than Delphinium tricorne

Bloom Color- There is a lovely variation in flower color. Ozarkedge has them all. I’ve seen flowers of the darkest blue violet, variegated blooms of white petals with violet spurs and pure white with green tips. Each color has its own special beauty, but I have to admit, I’m partial to the dark blue violet.

Pure white and green tips, white with violet spur, and dark blue violet flowers

Description- Delphinium tricorne is  shorter than its non-woodland relations, only growing to a maximum of 2 ft tall. It has only one stem which is thick, but weak and plants are often partially recumbent on the forest floor.

Weak stems lay on the woodland floor

Occasionally, the stems have a reddish tint. The degree of stem pubescence is variable but generally becomes more pubescent toward the top. The stem terminates into an open raceme of flowers.

Stem with minimal pubescence

Highly pubescent stem

Most of the leaves are basal, but one or two arise directly from the stem. Each leaf measures up to 4 inches across. They are palmate with 5 deeply cut lobes. These are further divided into shallow secondary lobes.  The leaves are lightly pubescent and ciliate on the edges. They arise from stout petioles that are highly pubescent.

Stem leaf on long petiole

Deeply divided palmate leaf

Yellowing leaf after flowering in early May

Delphinium tricorne is one of our most beautiful native wildflowers. The number of flowers on each plant varies,  typically about 8 to 14. Each flowers is 1 to 1.5 inches in length and consists of 5 sepals and 4 petals.  The top sepal projects backward forming a long spur that is tilted skyward. Cottony hairs can be seen along the spur and bottom of the sepals.

Young plant in late March

Buds in early April

Two different colored flowers showing skyward tilted spur

Looking up into a white flower with green tips

Highly pubescent stem and flower stalk

There are 3 inner pistils. Prominent bearding on the lower, side petals nearly hides the stamens, but leads to the whitish opening where the nectar awaits. The anthers are dark brown to black.

Bearded lateral petals “hide” the stamens

Another view of the bearded petals

The seed pod has three follicles with pointed tips

Bloom Time- It’s too bad that such a beautiful wildflower has such a fleeting bloom time–usually only 3 or 4 weeks during April.

Habitat- Delphinium tricorne is typically found in lowland, mesic woods and wooded, rocky slopes.

Two views of Delphinium tricorne in its woodland habitat

What’s Growing Nearby?- There are quite a few wildflowers growing in the rich woods alongside Delphinium tricorne. On Ozarkedge, some of these include Silene virginica (Fire pink), Phlox divaricata (Woodland phlox), Trillium recurvatum (Purple trillium), Thalictrum thalictroides (Rue Anenome), Rubus flagellaris (Blackberry), and Podophyllum peltatum (May apple). Spring grasses, woodland ferns and verdant mosses are the background for this April flower show. The trillium blooms are just starting to fade when the Delphinium tricorne begin and the May apples bloom just as the Delphinium are fading. I have to keep an eye out for one close friend- Toxicodendron radicans. This is the latin name for poison ivy, which seems to grow abundantly nearby and is the reason I wear gloves for all of my wildflower photography.

Delphinium tricorne with Phlox divaricarta in the background

Silene virginica, Podophyllum peltatum and Thalictrum thalictroides

Endangered List- Maryland has placed Delphinium tricorne on its watch list of plants for 2010.


Arkansas County Distributional Map for Delphinium tricorne

Range of Delphinium tricorne in Arkansas

Interesting Tidbits- The Hopi used the dark blue flowers to create a blue dye. All flowers in the Delphinium family are poisonous.