|larkspur, seen in Colorado|
The scientific name is Delphinium. Delphinion means little dolphin in Greek, Europeans having seen dolphins in the flowers--especially the buds. Since Delphinium was the name for them in vernacular Latin (endings vary between Latin and Greek), Linnaeus chose it for the scientific name.
Both the bird-foot image of the English name and the dolphin image of the Latin name point to ways to recognize larkspurs.
In the western United States, most springs a few cattle die from eating larkspurs. The plant causes nausea, vomitting, abdominal pain and muscular spasms. Normal functions stop, which means cardiac arrest or lung failure will cause death. Human poisoning is rare. The poison websites suggest that that is because the plant doesn't look like anything people ordinarily eat. If you don't ingest it, you won't be poisoned.
Europeans have used the larkspurs as poisons for pests, particularly as an external treatment for body lice, for millennia. Ground seeds were sprinkled on as a powder or applied in a lotion. link
Compared to the number of species in North America (61), Native Americans didn't make much use of larkspurs as medicines, the most common use being to cause vomiting. However, tribes from the Navajo to the Karuk produced a blue dye from the flowers.
Europeans have found them attractive as garden flowers since Shakespeare's time. Today the horticulture trade tends to call the perennial species it sells delphiniums, using the scientific name as the English name, and to refer to annual species as larkspurs. This is partly because taxonomic revisions have moved the European annual species to the genus Consolida, so that in Europe both the genus Delphinium (perennials) and the genus Consolida (annuals) have larkspur as a traditional common name. When looking at native American species, there is no particular convention, call them larkspurs or delphiniums as you please.
|Larkspur, western Nebraska|
Flower colors range from purple to blue to white and pink, but many areas have several species that are the same color, and other species come in multiple colors, making color only a little help in identification. But the distinctive flower means you can recognize that it is a larkspur.
And the variety of colors definitely add to the joys of seeing or growing them.
Comments and corrections welcome.
Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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More at awanderingbotanist.com
Delphinium plants.usda.gov link
Durant, Mary. 1976. Who Named the Daisy, Who Named the Rose? New York: Congdon and Weed Inc.
Extension.org Tall Larkspur, link and Low Larkspur link Accessed March 3, 2016
Moerman, D. E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland OR: Timber Press.
Right Diagnosis.com Larkspur poisoning link Accessed March 3, 2016
Thomas, H. S. 2000. Larkspur Alert . Beef Times link