Geophytic Delphinium

Mary Sue Ittner
Sat, 24 Jan 2004 13:42:41 PST
Dear All,

Since I have not received any impassioned posts against including 
Delphinium (or for that matter any against it at all) I will start a 
Delphinium wiki page and will use the very broad definition of geophyte as 
suggested by Jim Shields and Jim McKenney for determining which species I 
will include. Thanks for humoring me. It will mean I can add back some 
pictures I had deleted from the wiki already and others when they bloom 
this year. I grow about 12 taxa and there are a few hybrids that have 
appeared as well. I rather suspect when I start talking about them my 
enthusiasm will carry me along and this won't be brief.

Jim M's comment about the resemblance to Aquilegia brings to mind how I got 
started growing these California delphiniums. As a child in southern 
California I loved the annual larkspur that reseeded and returned most 
years. And since I'm a sucker for blue flowers I had tried nursery grown 
Delphiniums (those large tall impressive ones), but never was very 
successful with them so had given up. But I'd say there was some early 
interest in this genus.

When we moved to Mendocino County, now about 14 years ago, I offered to 
help out with the local native plant sale before I even knew the local 
native plants. I was given seed of a number of things to grow including 
Aquilegia formosa. I was pleased when it germinated nicely, but dismayed 
when it all died in the summer. I had transplanted some to 4 inch pots and 
never got around to disposing of all of them, just moving them out of the 
way. To my surprise after the plant sale sometime after it starting raining 
again I noticed activity in those pots so looked at the tags. Not only did 
they start growing again, but they bloomed and turned out to be Delphinium 
nudicaule which is beloved by my hummingbirds. For several years the plants 
did fine in a 4 inch pot going dormant in the summer and returning with the 
rains. I dumped them out to see what was in those pots and discovered the 
stick like root structure.

After that initial success I started looking for seed in seed exchanges and 
acquired a few more. Now I scan seed lists including Ron Ratko's. I'd look 
up the plants to see where they came from assuming some of the mountain 
plants that would spend the winter under snow wouldn't like my wet winters. 
I find keying them out to be a huge challenge. Some have really distinctive 
leaves, but a lot of them are very similar. And the stem leaves and root 
leaves can be different so that adds to the confusion. Throw in that they 
can hybridize and I suspect you could have a mess. But for my purposes, 
that is admiring these little beauties, it doesn't matter so much. I have 
found the ones I grow to be really easy (if I give them a dry summer and 
protect them from snails and slugs and birds when they leaf out). Many of 
them have needed more space for their roots that you'd find in a four inch 
pot so most I have in gallons now (except for D. cardinale) which needs 
even more space.

The first to bloom each year is Delphinium nudicaule. It is spiking now. I 
had one pot or another blooming last year between January and May. Last 
year Delphinium patens patens bloomed from February to May (and it is 
tuberous so no question about it being a geophyte.) Delphinium luteum 
bloomed last year March-May. It looks a lot like D. nudicaule and will 
hybridize with it to form a flower that is oddly colored rather than 
attractive. One year Harold Koopowitz offered some seed of D. parryi which 
turned out to be a very beautiful robust pretty blue when it flowered. Last 
year it bloomed April through June. I planted out one of the pots I had 
late in the season and was thrilled recently to see it is back. It is a 
part of my garden that doesn't get a lot of summer water.

I grow two subspecies of Delphinium hesperium. One is purple and the other 
pink (March through June bloom last year if you count both of them.) Then I 
discovered a local population of this species growing on the bluffs last 
spring so saved seed of it which I donated to the BX this year and have had 
good germination of the seed I started. I have two species that are found 
at higher elevations and both of those I've been able to flower too and get 
to return, but they are late bloomers (Delphinium uliginosum and D. 
hansenii ssp. hansenii)Last year they bloomed in June.

We had quite a discussion last year about the Delphinium cardinale John 
Ingram found in the wild in southern California. This one I grow too, but 
it has been slower to bloom from seed and needs a lot of room for its 
roots. I've grown red ones and yellow ones of that species. The one I had 
in the ground last year got eaten by snails more than once and didn't bloom 
at all. I thought it was gone, but it too has returned this year so I need 
to keep a watch on it so I won't repeat what happened last year.

And I have a very nice plant that I'm not sure of that was listed as D. 
variegatum. This species is supposed to be the biggest one and doesn't seem 
to be much different size wise from my others so perhaps it could be 
something else. It was seed exchange seed so you never know. It is a late 
spring bloomer, bluish purple and white.

Also I have seedlings of D. decorum, but they haven't bloomed yet. Maybe 
this year.

 From NARGS seed I have something that was labeled D. menziesii. There is 
still a picture of that plant on the wiki. I put it up to see if anyone 
could help me identify it. It is the most gorgeous blue color and almost 
doesn't go dormant. D. menziesii is supposed to be tuberous and since this 
one usually is in some stage of growth I've been loath to sacrifice it to 
check out its root structure, but without bare rooting it I don't think it 
is tuberous. I gave one to my good friend who loves to key plants and gave 
her a key Jane shared with me and she used the Jepson key, but she still 
wasn't sure what it was. Great plant for blue lovers however.

I hope that by offering seed and my enthusiasm I'll get some of the rest of 
you to try growing these as well. I saw that Harold had succeeded with D. 
luteum when I visited a number of years ago and am happy that Cathy's D. 
hesperium is thriving too. I sometimes misspelled it on my plant tags and 
maybe I did that on the one I gave you Cathy.

Mary Sue

More information about the pbs mailing list