Radnor Lake posted pics of dwarf larkspur drifts, so I had to go. Flowers in blue and purple do exert a pull. Bluebell woods are the prime example, but dwarf larkspur is a biggie too, so to speak.
My friend Peg met me in the already full car park. What a popular and democratic place is Radnor Lake. All sorts of folk. My favorite was the couple so modest they dropped hands when they saw us. The man wore a priest’s collar, tunic, headgear, and a cross the size of a paperback.
My least favorite was the trio who lumbered into the fragile larkspur to pose for phone pics. The two women pole-danced with a young hackberry tree, while the man hooted approval near the path. I assume they too had been pulled by the Radnor post, but had not read the caption about “please stay on the trail.”
My goal, besides chatting with Peg, was to learn more about dwarf larkspur / Delphinium tricorne, starting with the names: Dwarf, Larkspur, Delphinium Tricorne.
Dwarf. Q: If this is dwarf larkspur, what is regular?
A: Other larkspurs. The Missouri native “Tall Larkspur” (Delphinium exaltatum) is contrast enough, but then there’s the giant—up to eight feet—larkspurs in English cottage gardens. The latter is an annual (Consolida genus) but still a larkspur. All are in the buttercup family, which is always a surprise.
And then there’s dwarf as in The Seven, and specifically as in Dopey. He’s the only one of the crew with a lilac hat. Note similarity to dwarf larkspur bud:
Lark + spur. Q: Do larks have spurs, and if so, where? On legs like the wicked, bony spurs of roosters and wild turkey? (Try googling turkey spur jewelry.)
On wingtips like some ducks and geese? Or on the feet?
A: Turns out, most lark species do have long claws on hind toes.
Why? What is the function of a terribly pointy back toe? (NB: ask bird people.)
Now, the botanical name: Delphinium tricorne.
Delphinium comes from the Greek for dolphin (delphis). Some sources say the flower spurs look like dolphins, some say the unopened flower bud. I say no to both, but “What does this look like to you?” is a subjective question with no wrong answer. And if Greeks did name the plant I freely admit they had more access to sea creatures for comparison. Likewise, I have had more access to Walt Disney.
Tricorne makes sense. Tri=three, corne is from cornu which means horn. Three horns describes the seed capsule of a dwarf larkspur.
Cornu as in Cornus florida, our familiar dogwood tree, with wood so hard it was likened to horn.
Cornu as in the Vulgate’s famous mistranslation of Moses’s face as he came down from the mountain equipped with “horns” instead of the original rays of light.
People still ask my Jewish Studies professor if she hides her horns in her hair.
Cornu also means spur in botanical Latin.
Dwarf larkspur is big on spurs: in bud, bloom and seed.
P.S. Although larks are edible (lark pie is a thing), larkspurs are not. Staggerweed is another common name, because even a small amount can cause loss of coordination. Makes me wonder what Dopey had been nibbling in the forest . . .