Yellow Larkspur

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Yellow Larkspur

Delphinium luteum

ListedJanuary 26, 2000
FamilyRanunculaceae (Buttercup)
DescriptionA herbaceous, perennial, flowering plant.
HabitatCoastal temperate scrub.
ThreatsHabitat conversion to agricultural and residential uses, damage through agricultural activities, and excessive collection for horticultural use.


The yellow larkspur is a perennial, herbaceous plant. It grows from fibrous roots to as tall as 22 in (56 cm). Its leaves are mostly basal, fleshy, and green. The flowers are shaped like a cornucopia (or "horn of plenty"). Its five sepals are bright yellow, with the backmost sepal elongated into a spur. The petals are inconspicuous and occur in two pairs. The two upper petals are narrow and unlobed; the lower petals are more oblong to oval in shape. The ripe fruit is a follicle (a many-seeded dry fruit).


The yellow larkspur occurs in rocky areas within a coastal scrub plant community, including areas with active rock slides. It occurs from sea level to 300 ft (100 m) in elevation.


The yellow larkspur is a locally evolved (or endemic) species that is only known from the vicinity of Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, northern California.


The yellow larkspur has declined in abundance and local range because of rock quarrying, the development of its habitat for residential or agricultural use, excessive collecting for planting in gardens or for the commercial horticultural trade, and grazing by sheep. There are two remaining populations near Bodega, both on private land, and supporting fewer than 50 plants. These sites are still threatened by disturbances and other factors. Because of its small population size and very local range, the yellow larkspur is threatened by unpredictable disturbances, such as wildfire, insect outbreaks, or events of extreme weather. One of the two remaining populations of the yellow larkspur is located at an old rock quarry near Bodega, where much of its original habitat has been destroyed and fragmented by the historical quarrying activities. The number of plants at this site was 100-200 in 1978, but only 30-40 in the mid-1990s. The only other population has fewer than 10 individuals.

Conservation and Recovery

The collection or disturbance of wild yellow larkspurs is now illegal, although this is difficult to enforce and the surviving plants and their seed capsules are vulnerable to harvesting for use in gardens or the commercial horticultural trade. In addition, under state law private landowners can remove endangered plants after providing the California Department of Fish and Game with 10 days advance notice (this potentially allows a "rescue" attempt to be mounted). The two surviving populations remain vulnerable to damage from residential development and other disturbances. Its remaining habitat should be acquired and designated as an ecological reserve, or conservation easements should be negotiated. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to propose a designation of critical habitat for the yellow larkspur in the future, probably during the year 2002.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
Eastside Federal Complex
911 N. E. 11th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232-4181
Telephone: (503) 231-6121

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Fish
and Wildlife Office
Federal Building 2800
Cottage Way, Room W-2605
Sacramento, California 95825-1846
Telephone: (916) 414-6600
Fax: (916) 460-4619


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 26 January 2000. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Determination of Endangered Status for Two Larkspurs From Coastal Northern California." Federal Register 65 (17): 4156-4162.