Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Tall Larkspur - Delphinium exaltatum   Aiton
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Section 6 » Order Ranunculales » Family Ranunculaceae
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AuthorAiton
DistributionVery widely scattered in the mountains, at least as far south as Jackson County; might be absent in the extreme southwestern tip. A few records for the Piedmont -- Mecklenburg, Durham, and Granville counties.

This is a globally scarce species of the Mid-Atlantic states and slightly farther west. It ranges north to PA and OH, and south to NC and eastern TN; disjunct to IA and MO.
AbundanceRare in the northern mountains, south to Yancey and McDowell counties, and very rare to Jackson County. Extremely rare in the Piedmont, with only a few records. The NCNHP has 16 records, 11 of which are still extant, but two of these (in northeastern Piedmont counties) appear to be misidentified records from vegetation plots; thus, the NCNHP's S2 State Rank seems too liberal, and the website editors feel that S1S2 is more appropriate. It is precariously rare, and the State Endangered status is definitely warranted.
HabitatThis species requires high pH (circumneutral) soil in NC, but it is found in a moderate variety of settings. It generally prefers partial sun/shade and somewhat mesic soils as opposed to moist or overly dry. It is best found in open, glade like hardwoods (on ridges), along wooded borders, and in small openings in richer forests. At most sites, one to several other rare plants are found; and any site containing this species should already be protected as a natural area, or be a target for protection.
PhenologyBlooms from July to September, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is one of the more spectacular flowering plants in the state, and owing to its great rarity, is a very memorable day to see it in bloom. It is a sturdy/robust herbaceous plant, erect to more often leaning, and reaching 5-6 feet tall. It is a glabrous plant, with some branching in the upper portions. The alternate leaves are widely scattered, with each being strongly dissected into 3 or 5 slender and jagged lobes, each lobe being 2-3 inches long and rather narrow. Several other plants have similar deeply cut/dissected leaves, but few or none on a 5-6-foot-long stem. At the top of the stem, or several branches, is a very long raceme of large blue flowers; the raceme can be 1 foot long or more. The several dozen flowers are not all in bloom at the same time, but each is quite striking, with a long spur extending in the back, and 5 spreading "petals" in "front" -- producing a complex flower about 1 inch long. See website photos to understand the flower shape and structure. If you are lucky enough to find the species, you will certainly be taking photographs, but you should not collect any individuals, as this is a State Endangered species. It is best seen on some of the Amphibolite Mountains in Ashe and Watauga counties.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Tall Blue Larkspur
State RankS2 [S1S2]
Global RankG3
State StatusE
US Status
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