Carolina Larkspur (Prairie Larkspur)

Delphinium carolinianum
Poisonous
Family

Ranunculaceae (buttercups)

Description

A showy, erect plant to 3 feet tall, with bluish-purple flowers. Blooms May through June. Flowers are irregular and cone-shaped. The 5 sepals are the showy part of the flower, while the petals are reduced to inconsequential appendages. One sepal provides an upturned spur. There are few to many flowers per plant, terminal along a single stem, in deep blue, violet-lavender, purple, or white. Leaves are 3–5, basal, well-spaced on stems, divided into 3–7 very narrow, linear straps. Seeds are in beaked, angular pods (follicles) that form in a cluster of threes, joined at the base.

Size

Height: to 3 feet.

Habitat and conservation

Sometimes called prairie larkspur, this plant grows on glades, prairies, fields, rocky slopes, and rights-of-way.

image of Carolina Larkspur Prairie Larkspur distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Along and south of the Missouri River.

Status

Scattered and locally common in appropriate habitats.

Human connections

This and other species of larkspurs unfortunately contain an alkaloid that can be seriously toxic to cattle and other mammals. However, American Indians and pioneers made an anti-lice tincture from the plant. Meanwhile, larkspurs are lovely native flowers for a sunny garden.

Ecosystem connections

Bees consume the nectar, and various other insects feed on the vegetation, though mammals generally avoid it. This plant is one in a host of different species that live on native tallgrass prairies, which are defined in part by their great diversity of plant life.