Herbs, perennial, from fasciculate roots or rhizomes. Leaves basal and/or cauline, petiolate, petioles gradually to abruptly shorter on distal leaves; basal leaves usually larger than cauline; cauline leaves alternate. Leaf blade deeply palmately divided, round to pentagonal or reniform, margins entire or lobes apically crenate or lacerate, lobes of basal blades wider and fewer than those of cauline blades. Inflorescences terminal, 2-100(-more)-flowered racemes (occasionally branched, thus technically panicles), 5-40 cm or more; bracts subtending inflorescence branches; pedicels present or absent; bracteoles (on pedicels) subopposite-subalternate, not forming involucre. Flowers bisexual, bilaterally symmetric; sepals not persistent in fruit, 5; upper sepal 1, spurred, 8-24 mm; lateral sepals 2, ± ovate to elliptic, 8-18 mm; lower sepals 2, similar to lateral sepals; upper petals 2, spurred, enclosed in upper sepal, nectary inside tip of spur; lower petals 2, plane, ± ovate, ± 2-lobed, clawed, 2-12 mm, nectary absent; stamens 25-40; filaments with base expanded; staminodes absent between stamens and pistils; pistils 3(-5), simple; ovules 8-20 per pistil; style present. Fruits follicles, aggregate, sessile, ± curved-cylindric, sides prominently veined or not; beak terminal, straight, 2-4 mm. Seeds dark brown to black (often appearing white because of air in seed coat cells), rectangular to pyramidal, often ± rough surfaced. x = 8.
n temperate and arctic subtropical and, in Eastern Hemisphere, tropical mountains (s of equator in Africa).
Species ca. 300 (61 in the flora).
Three Eurasian species of Delphinium–D. elatum Linnaeus, D. grandiflorum Linnaeus, and D. tatsienense Franchet–have been commonly cultivated in North America. Of the nonnative taxa, only D. elatum is sporadically naturalized, as far as is known. Isolating mechanisms in Delphinium appear to be primarily ecological, geographic, and/or temporal. Where these distinctions are disrupted, introgression often exists. Hybridization occurs regularly between certain taxa, particularly in areas of disturbance (e.g., roadcuts, drainage ditches, clearcuts). The more common and easily recognized hybrids are included in the key.
Many names have been misapplied in Delphinium. The few misapplied names mentioned in discussions below refer to relatively widespread problems.
Unless otherwise noted, the key and descriptions refer to fresh material. Some features may be significantly altered by pressing; they can, however, usually be determined with a certain amount of effort and experience.
In the descriptions, "base of cleft" refers to the point where the cleft or sinus reaches most deeply into the petal blade.