Delphinium

Delphinium/Larkspur (Delphinium hybrid)

This particular delphinium has been gracing our garden for around 7 or 8 years now, and it’s also about 7 or 8 feet tall.  (I like symmetry.)  It dies totally to the ground each fall and then starts coming back up in early spring.  It blooms for an extended period of time and is slightly fragrant to boot.  I originally tried to make this bed an annual one, but somewhere in a seed mixture I planted was this lovely perennial Larkspur and it’s been here ever since.  One must be aware of the contents of seed mixes, especially wildflowers.  You never know what you might end up with.  We were lucky with this one, but the yarrow had to go since it was taking over everything.  The hummers and the bees love this plant and can be seen hovering around it at various times of day. I scared a hummer away when I came out to take this photo.  It’s probably back by now.

The name Delphinium comes from the Greek word delphinion, which means dolphin, because it was thought the leaves looked like dolphins.  Plant names are often quite fanciful.  They were listed by this name in De Materia Medica, a 5 volume pharmacopeia of medicinal plants written between 50 and 70 CE by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician in the Roman army.  Delphinium is a genus of about 300 species of perennial flowering plants in the Ranunculaceae (the buttercup family), native over the northern hemisphere and high mountains of tropical Africa.  All members of the delphinium genus are toxic to humans and livestock, especially the younger parts.  Larkspur is a significant cause of livestock death in the West.

But they are also beautiful.  I’ve seen them in the Sierras Nevada mountains and the Coast Ranges of California, and in the Cascades in Oregon and here in Washington.  We have them on my land in the Okanogan mountains in north central Washington.  In fact I just saw some of them blooming there last week. They’re not the giants the ones here in the garden are.  They usually only get a foot or two tall and don’t have as many full multiple flowers, which seems to be true of many native varieties. The cultivated and hybrid varieties have more flowers and are prized at garden shows for their beauty. They make quite an impact with their daunting presence.  If I had the room I’d grow more larkspur here.  Maybe I’ll find some.

Happy Summer Solstice!

Steve

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