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Delphinium is a genus of about 300 species of perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae, native throughout the Northern Hemisphere and also on the high mountains of tropical Africa. The genus was erected by Carl Linnaeus.[1]

Delphinium elatum var. palmatifidum as Delphinium intermedium var. palmatifidum by S. A. Drake. Edwards's Botanical Register vol. 24, t. 38 (1838).tif
Delphinium elatum
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Ranunculaceae
Subfamily: Ranunculoideae
Tribe: Delphinieae
Genus: Delphinium

All members of the genus Delphinium are toxic to humans and livestock.[2] The common name "larkspur" is shared between perennial Delphinium species and annual species of the genus Consolida.[3] Molecular data show that Consolida, as well as another segregate genus, Aconitella, are both embedded in Delphinium.[4]

The genus name Delphinium derives from the Ancient Greek word δελφίνιον (delphínion) which means "dolphin", a name used in De Materia Medica for some kind of larkspur.[5][6][7] Pedanius Dioscorides said the plant got its name because of its dolphin-shaped flowers.[8]



Flowers of most species have five spreading sepals and four petals (e.g. Delphinium nuttallianum).
In high mountain habitat, central Utah rangelands

The leaves are deeply lobed with three to seven toothed, pointed lobes in a palmate shape. The main flowering stem is erect, and varies greatly in size between the species, from 10 centimetres in some alpine species, up to 2 m tall in the larger meadowland species.

In June and July (Northern Hemisphere), the plant is topped with a raceme of many flowers, varying in color from purple and blue, to red, yellow, or white. In most species each flower consists of five petal-like sepals which grow together to form a hollow pocket with a spur at the end, which gives the plant its name, usually more or less dark blue. Within the sepals are four true petals, small, inconspicuous, and commonly colored similarly to the sepals. The eponymous long spur of the upper sepal encloses the nectar-containing spurs of the two upper petals.[9]

The seeds are small and often shiny black. The plants flower from late spring to late summer, and are pollinated by butterflies and bumble bees. Despite the toxicity, Delphinium species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the dot moth and small angle shades.[citation needed]


Delineation of DelphiniumEdit

Subgenera of Delphinium and related taxa

Genetic analysis suggests that Delphinium sensu lato, as it was delineated before the 21st century, is polyphyletic. Nested within Delphinium s.l. are Aconitella, Consolida, and Aconitum. To make Delphinium monophyletic, several interventions were made. The new genus Staphisagria was erected containing Staphisagria macrosperma (D. staphisagria), S. requienii (D. requini) and S. picta (D. pictum), representing the sister group to all other Delphinieae.[10][11] Further genetic analysis has shown that the two large subgenera Aconitum (Aconitum) and Aconitum (Lycoctonum) are the sister group to Aconitum gymnandrum, Delphinium (Delphinium), Delphinium (Delphinastrum), Consolida and Aconitella. To make Aconitum monophyletic, A. gymnandrum has now been reassigned to a new monotypic genus, Gymnaconitum. Finally, Consolida and Aconitella are synonymized with Delphinium.[12]


D. arthriscifolium is sister to all other species of Delphinium sensu stricto (so excluding Staphisagria). It should be placed in its own subgenus, but no proposal naming this subgenus has been made yet. The subgenera Delphinium (Delphinium) and Delphinium (Delphinastrum) are sister to the group consisting of the species of Consolida and Aconitella, which together make up the subgenus Delphinium (Consolida). Aconitella cannot be retained as a subgenus because A. barbata does not cluster with the remaining species previously assigned to that genus, without creating five further subgenera.[12]

Selected speciesEdit

Species include:

Reassigned speciesEdit

Several species of Delphinium have been reassigned:[12]


Delphiniums can attract butterflies and other pollinators.[13]


Delphiniums displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show
A Delphinium cultivar

Various delphiniums are cultivated as ornamental plants, for traditional and native plant gardens. The numerous hybrids and cultivars are primarily used as garden plants, providing height at the back of the summer border, in association with roses, lilies, and geraniums.

Most delphinium hybrids and cultivars are derived from D. elatum. Hybridisation was developed in the 19th-century, led by Victor Lemoine in France.[14] Other hybrid crosses have included D. bruninianum, D. cardinale, D. cheilanthum, and D. formosum.[15]

Numerous cultivars have been selected as garden plants, and for cut flowers and floristry. They are available in shades of white, pink, purple, and blue. The blooming plant is also used in displays and specialist competitions at flower and garden shows, such as the Chelsea Flower Show.[16]

The 'Pacific Giant' hybrids are a group with individual single-color cultivar names, developed by Reinelt in the United States. They typically grow to 4–6 ft (1.2–1.8 m) tall on long stems, by 2–3 ft (0.61–0.91 m) wide. They reportedly can tolerate deer.[13] Millennium delphinium hybrids, bred by Dowdeswell's in New Zealand, are reportedly better in warmer climates than the Pacific hybrids.[17][18] Flower colors in shades of red, orange, and pink have been hybridized from D. cardinale by Americans Reinelt and Samuelson.[15]

The following delphinium cultivars have received the Award of Garden Merit from the British Royal Horticultural Society:[19]

Name Height (m) Flower colour Eye colour Ref.
'Atholl' 1.5 white brown [20]
'Blue Dawn' 2.2 mauve (pale) brown [21]
'Blue Nile' 1.5 blue (mid) white [22]
'Bruce' 2.0 violet (deep) buff [23]
'Can-can' 1.5 violet (pale) (double) [24]
‘Centurion Sky Blue’ 1.5 blue (light) white [25]
'Cherub' 1.5 mauve (pale) cream [26]
'Clifford Sky' 2.0 blue (sky) white [27]
'Conspicuous' 1.5 mauve brown [28]
’Elisabeth Sahin’ 1.5 white cream [29]
'Elizabeth Cook' 1.5 white white [30]
'Emily Hawkins' 1.5 lilac brown [31]
'Faust' 1.8 blue (deep) black [32]
'Fenella' 1.5 blue (dark) black [33]
’Foxhill Nina’ 1.5 pink (pale) white [34]
'Galileo' 1.8 blue (mid) black [35]
’Holly Cookland Wilkins’ 2.5 violet brown [36]
’Jill Curley’ 2.1 white cream [37]
’Kennington Castle’ 2.5 white yellow [38]
’Kestrel’ 2.0 blue (bright) brown [39]
’Langdon’s Blue Lagoon’ 1.9 blue (mid) white [40]
'Langdon's Pandora' 2.5 blue (sky) brown [41]
'Lilian Bassett' 1.5 white brown [42]
'Lord Butler' 1.5 blue (light) white [43]
'Lucia Sahin' 2.0 pink/purple brown [44]
’Margaret’ 1.5 blue (bright) white [45]
'Michael Ayres' 1.5 violet (deep) brown [46]
'Min' 2.0 violet brown [47]
'Olive Poppleton' 2.5 white yellow [48]
'Oliver' 1.5 blue (light) black [49]
'Our Deb' 1.5 pink (pale) brown [50]
’Purple Velvet’ 1.5 violet brown/yellow [51]
’Raymond Lister’ 1.7 blue (mid) brown [52]
'Rosemary Brock' 1.5 pink brown [53]
’Rosy Future’ 1.2 pink white/black [54]
'Spindrift' 1.5 lilac (pale) white [55]
'Sungleam' 2.0 cream yellow [56]
'Sunkissed' 1.5 white yellow [57]
’Sweethearts’ 2.5 pink (rose) white [58]
'Tiddles' 1.5 mauve (double) [59]
'Walton Gemstone' 2.0 violet (pale) white [60]


All parts of these plants are considered toxic to humans, especially the younger parts,[2] causing severe digestive discomfort if ingested, and skin irritation.[2][3][9][61] Larkspur, especially tall larkspur, is a significant cause of cattle poisoning on rangelands in the western United States.[62] Larkspur is more common in high-elevation areas, and many ranchers delay moving cattle onto such ranges until late summer when the toxicity of the plants is reduced.[63] Death is through cardiotoxic and neuromuscular blocking effects, and can occur within a few hours of ingestion.[64] All parts of the plant contain various diterpenoid alkaloids, typified by methyllycaconitine, and are very poisonous.[61]


The juice of the flowers, particularly D. consolida, mixed with alum, gives a blue ink.[65]

All plant parts are poisonous in large doses, especially the seeds, that contain up to 1.4% of alkaloids.


  1. ^ Warnock, Michael J. (1997). "Delphinium". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). 3. New York and Oxford – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  2. ^ a b c Wiese, Karen (2013). Sierra Nevada Wildflowers: A Field Guide To Common Wildflowers And Shrubs Of The Sierra Nevada, Including Yosemite, Sequoia, And Kings Canyon National Parks (2nd ed.). Falcon Guides. p. 52. ISBN 978-0762780341.
  3. ^ a b RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  4. ^ Jabbour, F.; Renner, S. S. (2011). "Consolida and Aconitella are an annual clade of Delphinium (Ranunculaceae) that diversified in the Mediterranean basin and the Irano-Turanian region". Taxon. 60 (4): 1029–1040.
  5. ^ Gledhill, D. (2008). The Names of Plants (4th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780511480232. OCLC 348190404.
  6. ^ Bailly, Anatole (1981-01-01). Abrégé du dictionnaire grec français. Paris: Hachette. ISBN 978-2010035289. OCLC 461974285.
  7. ^ Bailly, Anatole. "delphinium". 'Abrégé du dictionnaire grec-français. Retrieved November 6, 2017 – via Tabularium.
  8. ^ Dioscorides, P. (1829). Sprengel, K.P.J. (ed.). Pedanii Dioscoridis Anazarbei De materia medica libri quinque (PDF). Tomus Primus. Leipzig: Knobloch. pp. 420–421. Flos albae violae similis, purpurascens, delphinorum effigie, unde et nomen adepta est planta.
  9. ^ a b Warnock, Michael J. (1993). "Delphinium". In Hickman, James C. (ed.). The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University and Jepson Herbaria. Retrieved 2012-12-08.
  10. ^ Jabbour, Florian; Renner, Susanne (2011). "Resurrection of the genus Staphisagria J. Hill, sister to all the other Delphinieae (Ranunculaceae)". PhytoKeys. 7 (7): 21–6. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.7.2010. ISSN 1314-2003. PMC 3261041. PMID 22287922.
  11. ^ Jabbour, Florian; Renner, Susanne S. (2012). "A phylogeny of Delphinieae (Ranunculaceae) shows that Aconitum is nested within Delphinium and that Late Miocene transition to long life cycles in the Himalayas and Southwest China coincide with bursts in diversification". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 62 (3): 928–942. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2011.12.005. PMID 22182994.
  12. ^ a b c Wang, Wei; Liu, Yang; Yu, Sheng-Xiang; Gai, Tian-Gang; Chen, Zhi-Duan (2013). "Gymnaconitum, a new genus of Ranunculaceae endemic to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau". Taxon. 62 (4): 713–722. doi:10.12705/624.10.
  13. ^ a b "Delphinium (Pacific Hybrids)". Plant Finder. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2018-07-31.
  14. ^ Rindels, Sherry (2013). "Delphiniums" (PDF). Revised by Richard Jauron, illustrations by Susan Aldworth. Iowa State Cooperative Extension.
  15. ^ a b "History of Delphiniums in cultivation". Dowdeswell's Delphiniums. Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2013-01-10.
  16. ^ Bassett, David (2006). Delphiniums. United Kingdom: Batsford. p. 160. ISBN 978-0713490022.
  17. ^ "Growing Delphiniums from seed and caring for them". Dowdeswell's Delphiniums Ltd. Retrieved 2013-01-10.
  18. ^ "Hybrid Delphiniums plant review". Timber Press. 2011-01-28. Retrieved 2013-01-10.
  19. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 29. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  20. ^ "Delphinium 'Atholl'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  21. ^ "Delphinium 'Blue Dawn'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  22. ^ "Delphinium 'Blue Nile'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  23. ^ "Delphinium 'Bruce'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  24. ^ "Delphinium 'Can-can'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  25. ^ "Delphinium 'Centurion Sky Blue'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  26. ^ "Delphinium 'Cherub'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  27. ^ "Delphinium 'Clifford Sky'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  28. ^ "Delphinium 'Conspicuous'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  29. ^ "Delphinium 'Elisabeth Sahin'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  30. ^ "Delphinium 'Elizabeth Cook'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  31. ^ "Delphinium 'Emily Hawkins'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  32. ^ "Delphinium 'Faust'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  33. ^ "Delphinium 'Fenella'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  34. ^ "Delphinium 'Foxhill Nina'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  35. ^ "Delphinium 'Galileo'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  36. ^ "Delphinium 'Holly Cookland Wilkins'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  37. ^ "Delphinium 'Jill Curley'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  38. ^ "Delphinium 'Kennington Castle'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  39. ^ "Delphinium 'Kestrel'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  40. ^ "Delphinium 'Langdon's Blue Lagoon'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  41. ^ "Delphinium 'Langdon's Pandora'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  42. ^ "Delphinium 'Lilian Bassett'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  43. ^ "Delphinium 'Lord Butler'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  44. ^ "Delphinium 'Lucia Sahin'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  45. ^ "Delphinium 'Margaret'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  46. ^ "Delphinium 'Michael Ayres'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  47. ^ "Delphinium 'Min'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  48. ^ "Delphinium 'Olive Poppleton'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  49. ^ "Delphinium 'Oliver'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  50. ^ "Delphinium 'Our Deb'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  51. ^ "Delphinium 'Purple Velvet'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  52. ^ "Delphinium 'Raymond Lister'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  53. ^ "Delphinium 'Rosemary Brock'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  54. ^ "Delphinium × cultorum 'Rosy Future'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  55. ^ "Delphinium 'Spindrift'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  56. ^ "Delphinium 'Sungleam'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  57. ^ "Delphinium 'Sunkissed'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  58. ^ "Delphinium 'Sweethearts'". RHS Plantfinder. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  59. ^ "Delphinium 'Tiddles'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  60. ^ "Delphinium 'Walton Gemstone'". RHS Plant Selector. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  61. ^ a b Olsen, J. D.; Manners, G. D.; Pelletier, S. W. (1990). "Poisonous properties of larkspur (Delphinium spp.)". Collectanea Botanica. Barcelona. 19: 141–151. doi:10.3989/collectbot.1990.v19.122.
  62. ^ "Larkspur Fact Sheet". Logan, Utah: United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Poisonous Plant Research.
  63. ^ "Reducing Losses Due to Tall Larkspur Poisoning" (PDF). Utah State University.
  64. ^ Smith, Bradford (2002). Large Animal Internal Medicine (3rd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby. p. 252. ISBN 978-0-323-00946-1.
  65. ^ Figuier, L. (1867). The Vegetable World, Being a History of Plants. Harvard University. p. 396.

External linksEdit