Wenatchee Larkspur

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Wenatchee larkspur
Wenatchee larkspur, located along Camas Creek Road in eastern Washington
Scientific classification
Kingdom Information
Kingdom Plantae
Family Information
Family Ranunculaceae
Species Information
Species Delphinium viridescens
Population statistics

The Wenatchee larkspur (Delphinium viridescens) is a rare plant species native to the U.S., located in the Wenatchee Mountains region, and is a part of the Ranunculaceae family, also known as the Buttercup family.[1] The Wenatchee Larkspur is generally described as a perennial forb/herb.[2] The scientific name of the Wenatchee larkspur is Delphinium viridescens, and in the United States it is a plant native to the mountains southwest of Wenatchee, Washington.

Established in 1989, the Camas Meadows Natural Area Preserve contains the largest known populations of two rare plant species, the Wenatchee Mountains checkermallow and the Wenatchee larkspur. These plants grow only in the Wenatchee Mountains region, they are not found anywhere else in the world. The Wenatchee larkspur can be found on Camas Land, and along Camas Creek Road and the trails surrounding Camas Creek.

Origin and History

The Wenatchee larkspur and the delphinium are close relatives; both are named for the shape of their flowers.[3] The delphinium flower resembles the bottle-like nose of a dolphin; as a result, delphinium comes from the Greek word delphis, meaning "dolphin." The spur, on the other hand, reminded some people of parts of the lark; hence "larkspur," "lark's heel," and "lark's claw." Its more delicate foliage differentiates it from the delphinium.

The delphinium is the birth flower for the month of July, and was used by West Coast Native Americans to make blue dye. European settlers used ground delphinium flowers to make ink. The most ancient use of the delphinium was as a strong external medicine thought to drive away scorpions.

According to Greek legend, Achilles' mother requested that her son's armor be given to the most heroic Greek warrior during the Battle of Troy. To the dismay of the brave warrior Ajax, the armor was awarded to Ulysses. Dejected, Ajax threw himself on his sword, and small blue delphiniums sprung from the blood that fell to the ground. Delphinium petals are marked with the Greek letters AI, the Greek cry of mourning.

Delphiniums signify an open heart and ardent attachment; larkspurs generally symbolize lightness and swiftness.

Species Description

Wenatchee larkspur, a Delphinium viridescens, is a plant native to the mountains southwest of Wenatchee, Washington. Flowering season is in the summer, most notably in July. Peak anthesis occurs during mid-summer (July). Fruits mature and begin dispersal by late September.[4] Delphinium viridescens can be located mostly in wet meadows and stream sides in coniferous forest, heavy clay soils.[5]

  • Leaves: Basal and lower cauline leaves long-petiolate, the blades up to 10 cm. broad, divided into three main wedge-shaped lobes, these once or twice cleft into oblong-rounded segments; mid-cauline leaves short-petiolate and overlapping, nearly erect, divided into narrow, acute segments, abruptly transitional to the lower leaves, but gradually transitional to the linear, entire, bract-like upper leaves.
  • Flowers: Inflorescence usually a simple, narrow raceme, the pedicels shorter than the flowers; sepals 5, purplish, but strongly streaked with yellow or greenish-yellow, oblanceolate, glandular, 7-11 mm. long; spur thick, straight, 7-10 mm. long; petals 4, yellowish or purple, the lower pair densely soft-hairy, equaling the sepals; stamens numerous; pistils 3.
  • Fruit: Follicles 6-8 mm. long, erect, densely glandular-pubescent.

Stout perennial from a short rhizome, 2-4 feet fall, glabrous below but with copious stalked, yellow glands above and throughout the inflorescence, the stem of a Delphinium viridescens is hollow. The lower leaves are approximately four inches broad and are divided into 3-5 main lobes, each further dissected. The upper leaves on the Wenatchee larkspur are linear and entire or linearly lobed. The diagnostic features include dense yellow hairs on the upper stem and flower cluster and yellowish to purple petals, and purplish sepals that are predominantly streaked with yellow.[6] The long spur of the Wenatchee larkspur flowers is generally reddish-purple, although some are pale greenish-yellow.


Delphinium viridescens is one of a group of tall Delphinium species that occur in the Wenatchee Mountains. Delphinium viridescens most closely resembles Delphinium multiplex, but may be distinguished using the following characters: Delphinium viridescens is typically 3-5 feet tall; sepals are iridescent purplish-yellow or greenish-yellow; and in some instances, the degree of basal and cauline leaf dissection has been observed to be greater in Delphinium viridescens, although immature specimens of Delphinium viridescens and Delphinium multiplex cannot readily be distinguished on this character.


The species most commonly occurs in seasonally wet openings, aspen groves and hardwood thickets associated with such openings. Larger sites were probably maintained by a relatively high water table. Fire may have played a role in creating, enlarging and maintaining these openings.

Technical data

Delphinium viridescens stems 90-150 cm; base usually green, glabrous. Leaves cauline, 17-30 at anthesis; petiole 0.2-8 cm. Leaf blade cuneate to semicircular, 2-5 × 3-12 cm, nearly glabrous; ultimate lobes 3-21, width 1-8 mm. Inflorescences 25-80-flowered, dense; pedicel 0.5-2 cm, glandular-pubescent; bracteoles 1-4 mm from flowers, green, lanceolate, 3.5-6 mm, glandular-pubescent. Flowers: sepals yellowish green, nearly glabrous, lateral sepals forward pointing, 7-9 × 3-4 mm, spurs decurved, 30-45° below horizontal, often hooked apically, 8-11 mm; lower petal blades ± covering stamens, 4-6 mm, clefts 0.5-1.5 mm; hairs centered, mostly near junction of blade and claw, yellow. Fruits 8-11 mm, 2.5-3 times longer than wide, puberulent. Seeds ± wing-margined; seed coat cells with surfaces ± roughened.

Washington State Status

The Wenatchee larkspur is confined to a small total range and apparently a very specific set of habitat conditions. It is suggested that appropriate habitats within the range of this species should continue to be inventoried.

Natural Area Preserves

In parts of Washington, almost all of the landscape has been altered. As eastern Washington's population is growing, its natural landscape is rapidly disappearing. Through Natural Area Preserves the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) protects remnants of Washington's natural heritage, reconstructs habitat and contributes to a healthy environment for future generations. Natural Area Preserves are set aside for research and provide opportunities for education. Many require a DNR guide, but others have interpretive trails where anyone can learn about Washington's unique natural heritage on their own.[7]

Threats and Management Concerns

Subdivision and subsequent development of rural residences represent a major threat to this species. Hydrologic changes resulting from development and associated road construction also pose a significant threat. Timber harvesting and grazing pose localized threats for some populations.


  1. http://www.cwnp.org/flora/listr.html
  2. USDA Plants. PLANTS Profile for Delphinium viridescens (Wenatchee larkspur), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Accessed July 2010.
  3. About Flowers : Larkspur Floral Designs By The Tumbleweed, (Accessed 2010).
  4. Delphinium viridescens : Wenatchee Larkspur, PDF (Accessed 2010).
  5. University of Washington. WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, (2010).
  6. http://www.conservapedia.com/File:Wenatchee_Larkspur.jpg
  7. Department of Natural Resources, Southeast Region office at (509) 952-8510.

Further Reading

  • Croft, L.K., W.R. Owen and J.S. Shelly. 1997. Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project Analysis of Vascular Plants.
  • Hitchcock, C.L., A. Cronquist, M. Ownbey, and J.W. Thompson. 1964. Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Part 2: Salicaceae to Saxifragaceae. University of Washington Press, Seattle. 597 pp.