It is native to the low elevation canyons and slopes, foothills, and mountain ranges, of California from the Sierra Nevada to the California Coast Ranges, and of Oregon. It grows below 6,500 feet (2,000 m).
The plant sends up thin and long 1–2 feet (0.30–0.61 m) stems with finely dissected leaves. It bears attractive larkspur flowers in shades of red and orange. The flowers generally pollinated by hummingbirds.
The root of Delphinium nudicaule has been historically used as a medicinal narcotic, chiefly by the Mendocino Native Americans of the Yuki tribe. The Concow tribe called the plant sō-ma’ in the Konkow language, and sō-ma’ yem (root).
The first phytochemical study of this plant was carried out by Michael Benn and Palaniappan Kulanthaivel at the University of Calgary in Canada. These researchers reported the presence of a number of diterpenoid alkaloids: hetisine, 2-dehydrohetisine, 6-deoxydelcorine, dictyocarpine, dihydrogadesine, methyllycaconitine, lycoctonine, takaosamine, nudicaulamine, nudicauline, and nudicaulidine.
The presence of these alkaloids in D. nudicaule implies that the plant is likely to be quite poisonous. The LD50 for MLA is ~5 mg/kg, i.v., in the mouse, and the LD50 for nudicauline is ~3 mg/kg, i.v., in the mouse.
- NPIN: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database — Delphinium nudicaule (Red larkspur) . accessed 1.10.2013
- Jepson Flora Project: Jepson eFlora — Delphinium nudicaule . accessed 1.10.2013
- Chesnut, Victor King (1902). Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office. p. 407. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
- University of Michigan (Dearborn): Native American Ethnobotany — 'Delphinium nudicaule' . accessed 1.10.2013
- P. Kulanthaivel and M. Benn (1985) Heterocycles 23 2515-2520.
- K. E. Panter et al. (2002) Biochem. Syst. Ecol. 30 113-128.
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- Jepson Manual Treatment: Delphinium nudicaule
- Univ. of Michigan: Ethnobotany
- Delphinium nudicaule — U.C. Photo gallery
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