Hark, Hark! The Larkspurs Bloom

The well-known line from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline — “Hark, hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings” — came to mind when I encountered larkspur standing tall in an Austin County field on April 9. “Hark, hark! the larkspur at heaven’s gate blooms” seemed perfectly suited to the moment.

Although larkspurs (Delphinium carolinianum) have naturalized in nearly every area of Texas, I rarely see them. In 2019, I found a few at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary in Hardin County, but it wasn’t until this spring that I came across more of the tall, dramatically blue flowers.

Commonly known as wild larkspur or Carolina larkspur, the plant — a member of the buttercup family — is native from Virginia to Missouri and southward to Florida and Texas. Found in an assortment of habitats, its sparsely-leaved flowering stalks typically contain six to fourteen blue-violet spurred flowers. Plants continue to grow upward after bloom, eventually reaching 18-24” tall; that height allowed these to stand above the phlox and bluebonnets surrounding them.

Each flower contains five petal-like sepals and four petals, with the upper sepal forming the long, backward projecting spur that gives the flower its common name; by the 1570s, the calyx and petals were imagined to resemble a lark’s hind claw. On the other hand, the Spanish name for the flower, Espuela de caballero, acknowleges its resemblance to a horseman’s spur.

The genus name Delphinium comes from the Greek delphis, or ‘dolphin,’ which some believe the bud resembles.

Larkspur’s dolphin-like bud
Blue larkspur and pink phlox
Blue larkspur fading to purple, with a bluebonnet background

The colors of D. carolinianum can vary, ranging from white to pale or dark blue. In 2020, I found a small group of white larkspur on an isolated road near Cost, Texas. Remarkably, when I returned to the same spot after our February freeze in 2021, I found the white flowers blooming once again.

This year, even more larkspur were blooming when I arrived. Their color has been so remarkably consistent I wondered if I might have found a subspecies. On the other hand, with no blue larkspur nearby to provide opportunities for cross-pollination, the pure white flowers may have a chance to keep multiplying.

One thing is certain. Whether blue or white, larkspur flowers are immensely attractive to native bees. The green-eyed beauty shown below, a long-horned bee tentatively identified as a member of the genus Melissodes, was doing his part to keep the larkspur colony thriving — and ready to be admired again in 2023.  


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Blue Eyes Shining in the Sun

Although their season is coming to an end, the lovely spring ephemerals known as Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) still can be found. Not a grass at all, but a member of the iris family, their several species add a pleasing dash of color to the spring landscape. That color can range from a clear, light blue to a deeper shade of blue tinged with lavender or purple, but all are lovely.

As time goes by, other grasses begin to overtake these small, half-inch wide flowers, encouraged by the rising warmth of a changing season.  In its way, the casual tumble of flowers and grasses is as pleasing as any first view of earlier blooms. Some blue eyes may cry in the rain, but for a few short weeks these blue eyes shine in the sun.


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Red and Blue ~ Those Texas Hues

Indian Paintbrush

Perhaps a true appreciation for Texas’s size requires leaving its cities and taking  time to roam among its unincorporated areas and settlements. Many places carry names even most Texans never have heard and, depending on your chosen spot to roam, the appearance of the land can vary wildly.

Last weekend, I chose to roam north and somewhat west of home, in the territory generally referred to by coastal dwellers as North of I-10.  Among its unfamiliar settlements — Burleigh, Sunny Side, Monaville — unbroken swaths of familiar wildflowers covered the land, unseen by flower-seekers cruising the primary highways. Sometimes, red Indian paintbrush served as the primary attraction; elsewhere, bluebonnets held sway. Occasionally, the flowers combined in a single field, creating an extraordinary sight.

Even the most skilled photographers can’t truly capture the glow of these flowers, or the bluebonnets’ fragrance. But if you enlarge each photo, you may get a glimpse of their wondrous beauty; I wish you had been there to see it.


Bluebonnets with perennial rye grass (Lolium perenne)


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The First of Many


Perhaps no flower signals the arrival of Spring in Texas more than the bluebonnet. The sleek electric blue buds of this single flower, found at the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge on March 20, were especially appealing. In time, bluebonnet species will cover our landscape with a variety of blues, but this single flower seemed a perfect harbinger of the beauty to come.

Over the weekend, I discovered other members of Texas’s spring floral trinity — Indian Paintbrush and Pink Evening Primrose — but it seemed appropriate to give this iconic Texas flower pride of place: saving paintbrush and primrose for another day.


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Spring’s Primary Colors

Anagallis arvensis ~ a blue form of the more commonly salmon-colored Scarlet Pimpernel

In another month or two, Indian paintbrush, Engelmann’s daisies, and bluebonnets will cover the land with their bold primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.

Just now, a combination of factors have created a landscape given to brown, light brown, sort-of-brown, and gray, but as February comes to an end, newly-emerged flowers are beginning to shine.

In areas of the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on February 20, the blue form of the so-called Scarlet Pimpernel had begun to emerge.

Even on a somewhat gloomy day, scattered Butterweeds provided bright yellow accents in the ditches.

Butterweed ~ Packera glabella

While not a pure red, the indefatigable Indian paintbrushes were scattered throughout the refuge, completing the traditional triad of colors and suggesting that spring’s full flowering may arrive sooner than we imagine.


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