July’s official flower is the larkspur.
Larkspur, can refer to any one of 300 species of perennial flowering plants in the delphinium family, as well as to their close cousins in the consolida family. Its genus name, delphinium, comes from the Greek word for dolphin, because the plant was said to resemble a dolphin’s nose. Other popular names include lark’s heel, lark’s claw and knight’s spur.
The flowers grow in groups along a single stalk, much like gladioli, and range in color from whites and yellows to deep reds, blues, and purples. Each flower has five petals and a protruding center – its “spur.”
Larkspur is poisonous if ingested, and is responsible for many cattle deaths in areas where it grows wild in pastures. It is also said to have medicinal and magical properties, and has been used to cure eye diseases, asthma, dropsy, and head lice. It was also believed to provide protection against lightning, and, in Transylvania, it was planted around stables, allegedly to to keep witches away.
Numerous origin stories about larkspur exist. The ancient Romans, borrowing the dolphin terminology from the Greeks, believed that the god Neptune transformed an endangered dolphin into the flower for protection.
The Pawnee tribe of North America believed that the mythological figure Dream Woman cut a hole in the sky to look down on Earth beings, and crumbs from the blue sky fell to the ground, becoming larkspur.
In medieval Italy, it was said that larkspur came about when three warriors slew a fierce dragon and wiped their swords in the grass. The dragon’s blue blood and venom mingled to create a beautiful, poisonous blue flower.
Like lily of the valley, the flower of May, larkspur is also associated with the Virgin Mary, and is said to represent her tears.
Depite its toxic properties, larkspur is commonly associated with lightheartedness and youth, probably because it grows in mid-summer, when many people have fond memories of carefree days away from school.
During the Victorian era, flowers came to have a language of their own. People used them to send messages they wouldn’t otherwise speak aloud. According to this language, pink larkspur symbolizes fickleness, white larkspur symbolizes joy, and purple larkspur communicates that the recipient is sweet.