Flowers, perhaps more than any other part of the natural world, are fascinating because of the many layers of meaning people have shrouded them in throughout history. An aspect of flower lore concerns the designated flowers for each month of the year. July’s official flower is the larkspur.
What Are 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 As Medicine? Just Don’t Eat It!
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 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.
Despite 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.
July’s Other Official Flower Is the Water Lily
Water lilies are any one of about 70 species of flowering plants found throughout the world. Though they appear to grow out of water, water lilies are actually rooted in soil with stems that reach upward, allowing the flowers to float on the surface. They feature large, flat leaves, commonly known as lily pads.
Water lilies come in two varieties: tropical and hardy — depending what type of climate they thrive in — and an array of colors, including yellow, orange, pink, red, white, purple, and blue. The flowers and leaves also come in a wide-range of sizes and shapes.
Traditionally, water lilies have been used in herbal medicine as astringent, antiseptic, and anesthetic. Native Americans mashed the plant’s roots to soothe swollen limbs.
Also known as Nymphaeaceae, water lilies are associated with the water nymphs of Greek mythology, minor female deities who were as free-spirited and strong-willed as they were sensual and mysterious.