Geophytic Delphinium

Mary Sue Ittner
Sun, 25 Jan 2004 16:40:26 PST
Dear Cynthia,

I'm not really an expert on Delphinium. I've just been growing my native 
versions, and concentrating on avoiding the mountain ones that will need 
summer water since I don't water much in summer.

I have a book called Texas Flowers in Natural Colors my mother gave me and 
it has three Delphiniums listed, but doesn't really tell you very much 
about them, not even if they are annual or perennial. It mentions 
Delphinium albescens, Delphinium carolinianum (the one you have) and D. 
vimineum. So I have no idea whether these are geophytes are not.

Delphiniums have this reputation for having seed that is short lived. That 
may be true of some of them, but I haven't found that to be true of the 
California species. I usually save my seed and start it in the fall after 
the weather has cooled and it comes up well. It also comes up well in the 
pots where it has reseeded when I haven't gotten it in time and I see new 
plants in the ground where I have planted them out as well. The seed falls 
in the pots, but doesn't germinate until winter. I treat it more like a 
perennial and that is after the seedlings look well established I 
transplant one of two each into a cup. Mike Mace suggested using plastic 
cups you can make holes in since they are so much deeper than 2 inch pots 
long ago for starting bulb seed. They work well for Delphiniums at the 
transplant stage and are relatively cheap and will last two or three 
seasons before they start splitting. We buy them in large quantities at 

Some of my species grow slowly and may stay in the cups for a year or two, 
but if they are growing well I continue to transplant them to larger 
containers. If the roots are filling the container they grow faster with 
more room. When they start to die back with the warmer weather I move them 
into the shade and leave them, occasionally giving them water (maybe three 
or four times during their dormant period. Once it starts raining again I 
let nature take over. I've found by experiment that I have better luck 
transplanting them out and having them return if they are a good sized 
plant than small seedlings. I'm not sure why this is, maybe it has to do 
with predators. Since Delphiniums are supposed to be poisonous do you 
suppose that means gophers wouldn't like them? It certainly doesn't stop 
the snails and birds.

When this has been discussed before Shawn Pollard who is a member of this 
list mentioned a couple. I have his quotes which I saved, but hopefully 
he'll post again about this genus.

 From Jan. 1998:
"There's a pretty, white plains larkspur that grows throughout Texas and 
dies back to
tuberous roots during the summer.  Here in Arizona, we have a number of 
geophytic spring-flowering desert species and summer-flowering mountain 
species." Could that be D. albescens which is described as resembling 
rabbit faces (white tinged green and purple) in my book?

 From Aug 2000 when he was living in Alpine, Texas:
"D. virescens wootonii is definitely geophytic with big, tuberous roots.  It is
one of the few spring-blooming anything that does well here.  It combines
beautifully with Stachys byzantina."

So you might look for some of those and hopefully Shawn will add to this 
discussion. Maybe some of the California foothill species might work too 
where it would be warmer in summer than here on the coast. I hope this 
helps. Let us know how you get along.

Mary Sue

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