While walking in Widow Valley west of Lookout CA (Modoc County), Leonard and I saw a bright red wildflower in the distance. Thinking it was “another” fritillary we almost walked past. Am I glad I decided to go confirm the identification! It was not a fritillary, but was a red larkspur (Delphinium nudicaule).
A member of the buttercup family, red larkspurs are native perennials that grow each year from deep, woody roots. Also commonly known as canyon larkspurs, canyon delphiniums or scarlet delphiniums, red larkspurs grow below approximately 6,000 feet in lightly shaded woods and moist, rocky slopes of Oregon and Washington, and Northern California.
The red larkspur stem is erect, thin, 1 to 4 feet in height and can be branched in its upper sections. The leaves are nearly round and divided into 3 to 10 lobes. The flowers, in shades of bright red or orange, occur in terminal racemes (an elongated, unbranched flower cluster with each flower having a stalk or pedicel). The flower displays bilateral symmetry, 4 petals, 5 sepals, 3 to 5 pistils and numerous stamens. The 5 sepals are large and conspicuous. The upper sepal is spurred (looks like a dunce cap) and contains nectar. The two lower petals are broader and more widely spread than the upper two. Each pistil matures into a many seeded pod.
Larkspurs contain alkaloids which are poisonous to livestock. Preparations made from red larkspur were used by indigenous peoples as a medicinal narcotic and a remedy for various ailments. Externally, red larkspur extracts were employed to kill parasites. Today red larkspur is often grown as an ornamental.
To think I could have missed this beautiful wildflower.