Delphinium carolinianum (Carolina Larkspur)

Plant Info
Also known as: Prairie Larkspur
Family:Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; dry prairies and woods
Bloom season:June - July
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] A sparsely to densely arranged spike-like cluster of irregular shaped flowers with a spur at the back. Individual flowers are about ¾ inch wide with 5 uneven petals; each petal usually has a dark smudge in the middle (looks polka-dotted) and is white to pale blue. The lower petals are “bearded” (see photo below). There are many stamens with brownish tips that may be curled up inside the flower.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: compound Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: palmate

[photo of leaves] Palmately compound leaves, about 3 inches across, are deeply divided into 5 or more primary sections, each with several narrow lobes. Basal leaves are long stalked and typically wither away by flowering time. Leaf stalks become shorter as leaves ascend the stem, the uppermost leaves with stalks 1/8 inch or longer. Leaf attachment is alternate with leaves often widely spaced on the stem. Stems are a brownish color, covered in fine hairs, velvety to the touch, and unbranched.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a 3-sectioned cylindrical capsule about ½ inch long. When seed is ripe it splits open at the top.


There are 4 recognized varieties of Delphinium carolinianum, most of which have regional distributions in the southeast and south central US. They are distinguished by several factors: basal leaves present or absent at flowering time, number of primary divisions in the leaves, and flowers mostly blue or white; var. virescens, which is present in Minnesota and central states west of the Mississippi, has primarily white flowers, sometimes pale blue, and leaves with 5 or more primary divisions.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Wild River State Park, Chisago County, and in a private garden in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Mary - Cedar
on: 2009-07-20 13:01:53

I noticed the rosette of leaves this spring in my flower garden. I was curious to see what it was, so I kept an eye on it. It came into bloom about a week ago, and I had never seen it before, and thought it must be related to the delphinium. I checked this site, and ound it to be the Carolina Larkspur. How lovely. It is starting to make seed pods.

Posted by: Lynnette - SE Dakota County, Ravenna Township
on: 2011-08-15 15:56:46

Saw some bloom here July 2009 -

Posted by: Kylene - Chippewa County
on: 2011-10-05 10:16:09

Observed about a dozen plants of the Prairie Larkspur in the middle of June 2011 in Chippewa County

Posted by: Patrick - St. Paul
on: 2013-04-06 10:21:52

Can you comment a bit on the differences between Delphinium carolinianum and Delphinium virescens. Are they seperate species, or is virescens a subspecies? Is this in flux? Bonap and USDA show carolinianum as native to MN, but the herbarium resource I was looking at shows virescens as the only native Delphinium.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-04-06 19:48:08

Patrick: Thanks for the question--it is a valid one. Our native species is actually Delphinium carolinianum var. virescens, sometimes noted as a subspecies rather than a var. Some references list this var. as a separate species, but it is not recognized as such in Minnesota.

Hope that helps.

Posted by: Lindsey - Dehli Township, Redwood County
on: 2013-07-05 11:27:59

I spotted this beautiful little flower this morning near my house. I had never noticed it before. Very beautiful.

Posted by: Sarah - Princeton
on: 2014-06-29 09:04:51

Saw a single plant in bloom in a remnant prairie in Sherburne County (Sand Dunes State Forest)

Posted by: Paul - SAINT PAUL
on: 2014-07-05 20:17:32

Saw a scattered few of these in bloom July 4 at Ottawa Bluffs, LeSueur County -- but my mentor identified it as delphinium virescens, though with the same popular name.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-07-06 12:39:19

Paul, your mentor isn't exactly incorrect. The full name of the species found in MN is Delphinium carolinianum subsp. virescens. Some references may not recognize it as a subspecies, but a separate species.

Posted by: Marcia - Goodhue
on: 2015-06-20 23:21:29

We have it growing on our farm on a south and west facing hillside amidst side oats. This same hill side has prairie onion blooming later in the year. The site is a former cow pasture that has been allowed to return to what it was. This is probably a remnant of native prairie.

Posted by: Bryan - Sunrise Prairie Trail, North Branch
on: 2015-07-01 20:28:01

Fairly abundant along trail south of town, and along railroad tracks to the north.

Posted by: Rj - Blue Mound state park in sw Minn
on: 2016-01-23 08:22:08

Beautiful dry prairie with many blooming when we visited.

Posted by: Kay - Sauk Centre
on: 2016-07-06 21:52:46

Saw a single specimen of this plant growing along the Lake Wobegon Trail about 5 miles west of Sauk Centre, MN (Stearns County).

Posted by: Chris - Lakeville - Murphy- Hanrehan Park Reserve
on: 2017-06-18 16:48:36

Single specimen, in open prairie on the way up the hill from trail marker 40 to 36.

Posted by: Kari H - Blue Earth county
on: 2017-06-18 16:58:00

Took a picture of this in Minneopa State park. Along the Hiking club trail.

Posted by: Syke B - MORRIS
on: 2017-06-25 16:08:14

Saw them today in Starbuck, MN, in a wetlands area at intersection 29 and 10.

Posted by: Amberglas - Coon Rapids/Andover
on: 2019-06-28 13:41:00

Saw a number of these blooming along trails in Bunker Hills Park.

Posted by: Maria - Minneopa State Park, Mankato, MN
on: 2019-07-05 13:04:56

Saw this beauty for the first time yesterday on the hiking club trail. Beautiful!

Posted by: lisa filter - sibley state park
on: 2020-06-19 09:29:22

Saw this flower in mid- June at the top of a lookout in sibley state park.

on: 2021-03-24 00:15:33

I bought delphinium seeds from Home Depot.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-03-24 07:08:04

JJ in Minneapolis, I would not trust any claims to native seeds or plants from big box stores. Best to purchase from reliable native plant vendors.

Posted by: Kevin Lynn Erickson - Hawley
on: 2021-10-10 06:43:12

I had a volunteer larkspur in my yard this past summer.I staked it so I can watch for it next summer.

Posted by: Heather
on: 2022-03-08 15:18:14

Other sources I have read state this species has 5 petaloid sepals and 4 petals, rather than 5 petals as you state. Comment?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2022-03-08 16:42:31

Heather, many members of the Ranunculaceae family have sepals that appear to be petals. It's not a significant distinction for ID purposes.

Posted by: Ann Fallon - Afton
on: 2022-06-19 18:34:15

Cedar Rock SNA, June 18, I have some poor pictures, multiple brown stamens clearly visible, white flowers, not blue, about 6 plants on rocky area

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