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November 2008
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Delphinium (also known as Larkspur)

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. The common name, shared with the closely related genus Consolida, is Larkspur. Other names are, lark’s heel (Shakespeare), lark’s claw and knight’s spur. The scientific name is taken from Dioscorides and describes the shape of the bud, which is thought to look like a (rather fat) dolphin.
Delphiniums are treasured and sought after as planting plants because they are so beautiful. Short delphiniums can be used in the front of a garden, the Belladonna hybrids in the middle, and the tall Pacific Coast hybrids in the rear. They are excellent cut flowers, too. Tall spires of delphiniums add colour and drama to summer borders during their short flowering season. As classic cottage garden plants, they also give a strong vertical accent in groups of mixed perennials. The brilliancy of the blue color of some of the flowers cannot be surpassed. However, these plants start to lose their flowering potential after about three years, hence it is important to take cuttings.
They need full sun and a good, deep, well-drained, evenly moist soil that has a high humus content. If the soil is too acid, agricultural lime should be added. They are hardy feeders that must be supplied with compost or well-rotted manure, benefiting from feedings of a 5-10-5 fertilizer every year.
Tall cultivars need support. Have three to four stakes per plant, put in place around the plant in spring, as a starting point and monitor how fast the wind blows. Add new ties as the plant gains height.
Delphiniums and larkspur are normally harvested with one to two open flowers on the spike. Avoid flowers with mildew-infected leaves. At least one to two flowers per stem should be fully opened at the time of purchase with no sign of flower fall. Make sure stems are rinsed prior to re-cutting and arranging, so as to remove dirt and debris.

Problems with the plant: All parts of the plant contain an alkaloid delphinine and are very poisonous, causing vomiting when eaten, and death in larger amounts.
Larkspur, especially tall larkspur, is a significant cause of cattle poisoning on rangelands in the western United States. Larkspur is more common in high-elevation areas, and many ranchers will delay moving cattle onto such ranges until late summer when the toxicity of the plants is reduced.

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