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Purple larkspur

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Christine Tailer

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

There are wildflowers everywhere. Feathery white fleabane washes in white patches along the edges of the valley road. Purple dead-nettle blankets the still-unworked fields in rolling scarlet waves, and the red bud trees, perhaps pretending to be flowers, are in bloom across the hillsides. 

All throughout the valley, my eye catches on countless beautiful spring wildflowers that seem to vie for my attention. It is really difficult to get anything done. I just want to stop whatever I might be doing and sit down among them.

When I walk out to the pasture to water and feed the horses, I pause and bend down to admire the ever-spreading ground ivy that reaches across the grassy field. It is clear to see that ivy's diminutive purple petals lie in delicate clusters, shining demurely against their bright green background.

Then there is the tall phlox, that reached out into the sunshine from the woods. Its gentle shades run from a deep lavender to pink to almost white. Phlox is not tall, but still towers over ivy. When a breeze blows up the valley, I can see the phlox petals fluttering in its draft, while diminutive ivy is far too close to the ground to catch the wind.

It is, however, the deep, almost royal purple of the larkspur, that always draws my eye. Larkspur is not even as tall as phlox, though still stands tall enough to reach the breeze, but larkspur's stem is so solid and thick, that dancing is not an option. Larkspur simply stands in all its purple splendor, ever so well grounded.

Curiously, I have never gathered a bouquet of larkspur. I don't know why, as I often pick the valley's wildflowers and bring them inside to brighten up the house, but today I recalled that leaving larkspur alone is likely a good idea.

Apparently, every part of larkspur contains poisonous alkaloids. Even a brief touch can cause a skin rash, and if ingested in sufficient quantity, larkspur can be fatal. The ingested alkaloids wreak havoc on the body's neurological and muscular systems, and if enough larkspur is consumed, it can cause these systems to completely fail. Thankfully, it seems that the valley's deer, rabbits and other wildlife know to stay clear of larkspur's enticing purple color. Just one nibble could have seriously dour consequences.

As for me? It appears that I will continue to enjoy all of the valley’s springtime wildflowers, as they brighten the valley with their beautiful colors, and I’ll certainly continue to pick bouquets of wildflowers and bring them inside to brighten up the house, but as for larkspur, I know that it is best to simply marvel at its purple beauty and maintain a healthy reserve. I smile. Even from a distance, its royal purple will always brighten my day.  

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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