At Floom we’re all about giving, so this July we’re giving you two flowers of the month for the (virtual) price of one… Don’t ever say we don’t treat you. Introducing larkspur and delphinium (the birth month flower for July). And no, before you ask, they aren’t the same stem…
You’d be forgiven for thinking that was the case though. To look at, both larkspur and delphinium have trumpet-shaped flowers with a front collar of five single or double sepals and a long, tapered funnel in the back, right? But despite being frequently mislabeled and confused for each other – even by us experts – there are some notable differences between the two which caused the botanical powers that be to reclassify the larkspur from the genus Delphinium to Consolida last year.
So, what is the actual difference? While closely related to the better-known delphinium, the consolida differs most noticeably in the structure of its flowers: open, loosely-arranged spikes of petals replace the dense column of flowers found in a delphinium. But perhaps the most apparent is colour. While the palette of delphinium is predominantly blue and white, larkspur come in a wide array of colours. Aren’t you happy we got that clarified?
Delphinium take their name, in part, from the Greek word for ‘dolphin.’ It’s yet another sweet example of tenuous comparisons between the shape of a flower and an exotic animal (refer back to previous FOTMs the Snapdragon and Snake’s Head Fritillary, you know you want to). Supposedly the shape of the spur, formed by five petal-like sepals, resembles the back of a dolphin as it crests the waves. Meanwhile, the larkspur are said to resemble a lark’s foot with its long, curving back spur… while a Native American legend – a nice change from all the dysfunctional goings-on amongst the Greek gods – states that the larkspur got its name from a celestial being who descended from heaven via a long spike made out of pieces of parted sky. As he climbed down, the sun dried out the spike and it scattered in pieces once more in the wind. Wherever those pieces of sky touched the earth, great larkspur flowers would burst forth.
We’re not completely sold on it either, but what we do know is that the town of Larkspur in Colorado was given its name by Elizabeth Hunt, wife of the governor, in 1871 because of the abundance of such flowers growing in the area. In fact, these largely alpine-dwelling stems are found throughout the northern hemisphere, and also high atop the mountains of tropical Africa.
And finally, the most unexpected larkspur fact: they are toxic to both humans and animals. Do not eat, we repeat, do not eat this stem! As part of the infamously toxic buttercup family, they secrete delphinine, an alkaloid similar to monkshood’s aconitine that’s dubbed the “the queen of poisons.” If you were to ingest such a stem it’s likely it could slow or stop your lungs and heart. But fortunately, neither larkspur nor delphinium have cropped up in any recipes to date (even in folk remedies) so we can live safe. Toxicity aside, larkspur and delphinium can add a real sprinkle of untamed beauty to a seasonal bouquet.