prairie larkspur

(Delphinium carolinianum ssp. virescens)

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List

not listed

prairie larkspur


NNR - Unranked

SNR - Unranked


not listed






Dry. Prairies, open woods. Full sun to partial shade. Rocky or sandy soil.


May to June

Flower Color

White to very pale blue


20 to 32


This is a 20 to 32 tall, erect, perennial forb that rises on a group of basal leaves and 1 to 8 stems from fibrous roots. The roots are borne in 2 to 8 spreading bundles (fascicles) that may stretch more or less horizontally up to 32. They are sometimes stout but they are not tuber-like. The plant does not have a taproot and does not spread by underground stems (rhizomes).

A radiating group of 5 to 12 basal leaves forms a rosette rising from the root crown. Basal leaves are rounded to pentagonal in outline, up to 3 long, and up to 4¼ wide. They are on slender, up to 5½ long leaf stalks (petioles). They are deeply palmately divided into 5 to 7 segments. Each segment is further divided into 3 to 29 ultimate lobes. The ultimate lobes are linear to narrowly inversely egg-shaped and 1 16 to wide. They may be broadly angled to sharply pointed at the tip, or rounded at the tip with a minute, abrupt, sharp point. The upper and lower surfaces are covered with short, fine, grayish or whitish hairs making them velvety to the touch. The margins are untoothed. Basal leaves wither early but some are present at flowering time.

There are 4 to 12 alternate stem leaves above the basal rosette. Stem leaves are smaller, with fewer, narrower ultimate lobes and shorter petioles, but are otherwise similar to basal leaves. They become smaller, less divided, and have shorter petioles as they ascend the stem. Mid-stem leaves have 5 to 15 ultimate lobes, each 1 32 to ¼ wide. Petioles of upper stem leaves are ¼ to ½ long.

The stems are erect, greenish-white, and round. They are unbranched or sparsely branched just below the inflorescence. They are moderately to densely covered with short, whitish hairs.

The inflorescence is a narrow, elongated cluster of 8 to 27 flowers at the end of the central stem, and occasionally 1 or 2 shorter clusters. The cluster is usually unbranched, like a raceme, but is sometimes branched, and is therefore technically a panicle. The axis is moderately to densely covered with short, curled hairs. Individual flowers are on erect flower stalks (pedicels) that appear appressed to the axis, at least in the lower half of the inflorescence. The lowermost pedicels are ½ to 15 16long. Each pedicel is subtended by a single, undivided, linear, to ¼ long, ascending, modified leaf (bract). The bract subtending the lowermost pedicel is sometimes 3-lobed.

Each flower is irregularly shaped, about 1 long, and about wide. There are 5 sepals, 4 petals, 25 to 40 stamens, and usually 3, sometimes 4 or 5, pistils. The sepals are petal-like, white or greenish white to pale blue, to 9 16 long, and to ¼ wide. The lateral four sepals are spreading, to 9 16 long, and to ¼ wide. There is a small green or purple patch near the tip of each sepal. The upper sepal is similar but extended backward into a narrow, tube-like appendage (spur). The spur is to 9 16 long, to ¼ wide, and slightly curved upward. The petals are to ¼ long, free (not fused together), and white, sometimes tinged with blue or yellow. They protrude from the center of the group of sepals. The lower 2 petals are lobed for about half their length and bearded. They more or less cover the stamens. The stamens have yellow to brown anthers on 3 16 to ¼ long filaments. They are not showy.

The fruit is a dry, more or less cylinder-shaped, slightly curved, ½ to ¾ long seed pod (follicle) with numerous seeds. It has a 1 32 to long prolonged tip (beak) and may be covered with fine, short hairs or hairless. They occur in erect clusters of three joined together at the base.

The seeds are yellowish-brown or brown to almost black. They appear scaly due to a dense covering of tall, thin, undulating ridges.


This is the only Delphinium in Minnesota. There are no similar species.

Distribution Distribution Map   Sources: 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 28.

There are four subspecies of Delphinium carolinianum. This is the only subspecies found in Minnesota.

Plants in the genus Delphinium are rich in the alkaloid delphinine, which is toxic to livestock. Deer generally avoid them.



Ranunculaceae (buttercup)








Delphinium albescens

Delphinium carolinianum ssp. penardii

Delphinium carolinianum var. virescens

Delphinium penardii

Delphinium virescens

Delphinium virescens var. macroceratilis

Delphinium virescens var. penardii

Delphinium virescens ssp. penardii


Carolina larkspur

Penard’s larkspur

plains larkspur

prairie larkspur

white larkspur

wild larkspur









Bearing one or more tufts of hairs.



Modified leaf at the base of a flower stalk or flower cluster.



A small bundle or cluster, often sheathed at the base, as with pine needles.



On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.



A dry fruit formed from a single carpel, containing many seeds, that opens at maturity along the seed-bearing seam.



Long, straight, and narrow, with more or less parallel sides, like a blade of grass.



Similar to a hand. Having more than three lobes or leaflets that radiate from a single point at the base of the leaf.



A pyramidal inflorescence with a main stem and branches. Flowers on the lower, longer branches mature earlier than those on the shorter, upper ones.



In plants: the stalk of a single flower in a cluster of flowers. In Hymenoptera and Araneae: the narrow stalk connecting the thorax to the abdomen.



The stalk of a leaf blade or compound leaf that attaches the leaf blade to the stem.



An unbranched, elongated inflorescence with stalked flowers. The flowers mature from the bottom up.



A horizontal, usually underground stem. It serves as a reproductive structure, producing roots below and shoots above at the nodes.



A radiating group or cluster of leaves usually on or close to the ground.



An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.



On flowers: a hollow tubular appendage, often containing nectar, formed from a sepal or petal. On branches: a short shoot bearing leaves or flowers and fruit.


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Other Videos
  Prairie Larkspur
Perry Brewer

Uploaded on Jul 22, 2009

Summary of the effects and how to identify Prairie Larkspur.

  Prairie Larkspur.

Uploaded on Jul 12, 2011

Michael Fisher, Area Extension Livestock Agent in Colorado discusses the effects and identification of prairie larkspur.







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