delphiniumsDelphinium is a genus of around 300 species of flowering perennial, biennial and annual plants that are native throughout the Northern Hemisphere and also on the high mountains of tropical Africa.

The name “delphinium” derives from the Latin for “dolphin”, referring to the shape of the nectary, though there is also a story that in ancient Rome men were pursuing a dolphin for commercial exploitation so Neptune turned it into the Delphinium!

The common name “larkspur” (referring to the bird’s claw shape of the flower), is shared between perennial Delphinium species and annual species of the genus Consolida. The famous 16th century herbalist, John Gerard gives ‘delphinium’ as an alternative name for Consolida, says that there is little written about any medicinal uses other than as an antidote to scorpion stings. He mentions the idea of laying delphiniums in the path of a scorpion tol render it totally incapable of movement until the plant is removed but says this is just one of many ‘trifling toyes’ that are not worth reading! The town of Larkspur in Colorado was given its name by Elizabeth Hunt, wife of the governor, in 1871 because of the abundance of delphiniums growing in the area

Delphinium nuttallianum

Delphinium nuttallianum

Species names of Delphinium include:

D. ajacis = possibly based on the marks at the base of the united petals which were compared to the letters AIAI

D. cardinale = scarlet

D. consolida = joined in one

D. elatum = tall

D.formosum = beautiful

D. grandiflorum = large flowered

D. nudicaule = naked stemmed

D. sulphureum = sulphur – yellow

D. tatsiense = of Tatsien, China

D. triste = sad, the dull blue of the flowers

D. zalil = native Afghanistan name.

D. 'Blue Nile'

D. ‘Blue Nile’

Delphinium_cv2

The delphinium is much admired, particularly in the cottage garden setting. Delphiniums are tall, majestic plants with showy open flowers on branching spikes. Each flower has 5 petal-like sepals with 2 or 4 true petals in the centre called a bee. Delphinium species include all three primary colours, blue, red, and yellow. Hybridisation of delphiniums has resulted in many new colours and attractive flower forms and growing heights. Most garden Delphiniums are of the hybirds raised from species such as elatum, formosum, grandiflorum and sulphureum. Flower colours range in shades of blue from palest sky, through to gentian and indigo; rich purple, lavender, pink to purest white.  In England Blackmore and Langdon, nurserymen and leading breeders of Delphiniums, were producing hybrids from early in the 20th century, producing named varieties of large well-formed delphiniums. Others have also added their skills and developed the most dramatic and eye-catching plants to grace our gardens.

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Sources and further information:

The Delphinium Society

RHS- Delphiniums

How to grow Delphiniums- Sarah Raven

Gallery of Delphiniums

The Poison Garden – Delphiniums

Quizzicals: answers to the two clues given in Plantax 13…

  • Bovine stumble – cowslip
  • Simpler tombola – rafflesia

..and 2 more cryptic clues to the names of plants, fruit or veg…

  • Cold yearning
  • How Jack Charlton refers to brother Bobby

Special thanks to Les Palmer, whose new book ‘How to Win your Pub Quiz’ was published recently. A great celebration of the British Pub Quiz!

Old School Gardener

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