Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
In North Dakota, prairie larkspur occurs southeastward of a line from Emmons to Grand Forks Counties. Elsewhere, the plant ranges from Wisconsin south to Texas.
Prairie larkspur is one of our taller prairie perennials; plants over three feet tall are not uncommon. Each finely-divided leaf is at the end of a long stalk. The most striking feature of prairie larkspur is the flowering spike; it is about ten inches long and contains about 30 large, whitish-blue flowers. The back of each flower projects to the rear like the thin hind toe of a bird.
The juices or seeds of many of the Delphiniums were used by various native peoples worldwide as insecticides, internal parasiticides, and to control lice and ticks; the flowers were made into green or orange dyes. Seeds of prairie larkspur were used by the Kiowa tribe in their ceremonial rattles. Many western Delphiniums are believed to be poisonous to livestock, but our prairie larkspur seems to be fairly innocuous. Never abundant, the scattered plants are likely avoided by cattle.
Prairie larkspur is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) which contains our crowfoots, meadow rues, anemones, columbine, and baneberry. The generic name Delphinium derived its name from the Latin for "dolphin," which the shape of the flowers somewhat resembles. The specific epithet virescens means "greenish" in botanical Latin. The plant was first described for science by Thomas Nuttall in his monumental Genera of North American Plants of 1818.