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Delphinium is a genus of about 250 species of annual, biennial or perennial flowering plants in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae, native throughout the Northern Hemisphere and also on the high mountains of tropical Africa.

Delphinium are grown for thier striking spires of showy flowers. Taller varities can dress up the back ground of a flower bed, while shorter varities mingle with other low perennials.

Larkspur is an annual type of Delphinium. They are more branching and wispier than perennial Delphiniums.

Early spring is a great time to plant Delphinium. Although delphiniums are perennials, we plant them like annuals because they rarely survive from year to year. Snails also like delphiniums, so be prepared to bait regularly.

There are tall and short varieties of delphiniums. Delphinium 'Pacific Giants' can reach five to eight feet in height while the Delphinium Fountain' strain will only reach 3 feet at the most.

Select plants that have not yet set flower spikes. Plant in well-amended soil, in full sun. Be sure to fertilize and water often.

The tall spikes often need to be staked.

After the first flower spike blooms, cut it back 4-6 inches from the ground and you will get shorter, but more numerous spikes in a few weeks.

The seeds are small and 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 Dot Moth and Small Angle Shades.

Delphinium elatum 'Pacific Giant' is a striking strain that grows 5-8 feet tall. This strain includes a light blue 'Summer Skies', a medium blue 'Blue Bird', a dark blue 'Blue Jay' and a clear white 'Galahad'. Purple, pink and lavender types are also sold.

Cultivation and uses

A modern hybrid Delphinium cultivar selected for garden use. Many species are cultivated as garden plants, with numerous cultivars having been selected for their denser, more prominent flowers.

All parts of the plant contain an alkaloid delphinidin and are very poisonous, causing vomiting when eaten, and death in larger amounts. In small amounts, extracts of the plant have been used in herbal medicine. Gerard's herball reports that drinking the seed of larkspur was thought to help against the stings of scorpions, and that other poisonous animals could not move when covered by the herb, but does not believe it himself. Grieve's herbal reports that the seeds can be used against parasites, especially lice and their nits in the hair. A tincture is used against asthma and dropsy. The juice of the flowers, mixed with alum, gives a blue ink.

The plant was connected to Saint Odile and in popular medicine used against eye-diseases. It was one of the herbs used on the feast of St. John and us such warded against lightning. In Transsylvania, it was used to keep witches from the stables, probably because of its blue color.


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