For those who have a birthday this month – and that includes me – let us celebrate with our birth flower of the larkspur. I introduced ‘birthday flowers’ in June, explaining that the giving of flowers as gifts to celebrate birthdays is believed to have started during the Roman Empire.
These celebrations were not just for the individuals, they were used as a way of honouring Roman Gods with altars decorated with seasonal flowers.
Flora is well-known as the word used to describe all plants and is named after the Roman Goddess of flowers. A Flora Festival, known as Floralia, was celebrated in early spring and centred on flowers. Although, as in the manner of most Roman celebrations, it also included theatrical performances, gladiator contests, circus events – and nude dancing! In 30AD, under the emperor Galba, the star attraction was apparently a tight-rope walking elephant!
So our birthday flower of the larkspur may not seem as aspirational or flamboyant as the lily or the rose – but they have their own charm, in a quieter and more subtle way.
The larkspur and its close relative, the delphinium, are both named from the shape of their flowers. The larkspur flower looks like the claw of a bird, with the delphinium flowers resembling the bottle-like nose of the dolphin (delphis being the Greek for ‘dolphin’). Common names for these include lark’s heel, lark’s toe, lark’s claw, knight’s spur and staggerweed. Native to the North Temperate Zone, they are members of the ranunculaceae family – the buttercups.
They will thrive in a moisture retentive (but not waterlogged) soil, as will other members of the family – clematis, aquilegia, hellebores, love-in-a-mist, marsh marigold, winter aconite, monkshood. Although many of these have been used in homeopathy, care is needed as most contain protoanemonin – which is toxic to humans and animals – as well as other poisonous and toxic compounds!
The first garden larkspurs, annual native of Britain, were delphinium consolida.
The second part of the name, which translates to ‘made whole’ refers to believed medicinal properties and was widely used to help ‘consolidate wounds’. Dried and powdered it does make an effective insecticide, so that may have helped reduce infection by lice and insects...
There are around 40 different species of larkspur, with many hundreds of easily-grown garden cultivars. Growing between 2ft (60cm) and 4ft (1.5m), it makes a wonderful summer flower – attractive to bees as well as to us!
A range of colours – with some having ‘secret’ meanings according to the Victorian language of flowers: pink blooms signifying ‘fickleness’; purple saying ‘you have such a sweet disposition’; with white expressing that the recipient is ‘joyful, and happy-go-lucky’.
So if you know anyone with a July birthday, buy them a bunch of larkspur – but think carefully about the colour....