An entry written by work-study Katherine Van Dijk today. Katherine writes:
Today’s picture is of a lovely Lobelia cardinalis thanks to Eric in SF@Flickr (Eric Hunt). A long list of synonyms for Lobelia cardinalis are recorded in the Encyclopedia of Life, suggesting it is both a widespread and variable-looking species. It is certainly widespread; according to the USDA’s Germplasm Resources Information Network, Lobelia cardinalis is a native to southeastern Canada, much of the United States, most of Mexico and Mesoamerica, and as far south as Colombia.
Lobelia cardinalis is a perennial that grows to 0.3-2m (1-6ft.). The common name cardinal flower stems from the resemblance of its flower colour to the robes of the Roman Catholic Cardinals, though other flower colours are sometimes seen (white or pink-rose). According to the Encyclopedia of Life, it is also known as “red lobelia”, and in German “Kardinalslobelie”. Lobelia cardinalis blooms through July to September, and while it does not attract cardinal birds, it is pollinated by hummingbirds and is attractive to butterflies. Lobelia cardinalis is relatively common, though it has become scarce in some areas due to over-picking.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (from the University of Texas at Austin) provides a rather in-depth description of the characteristics, distribution throughout the US and Canada, growing conditions, uses, and propagation of this species. Naturally, one of these uses is as an ornamental flower in perennial gardens. Traditionally, it is also said to have been used as a root tea for “stomach aches, syphilis, thyroid problems and worms” while leaf teas were used for “colds, croup, nosebleeds, fevers, headaches, rheumatism”. The Wildflower Center also warns that all parts of the plant are toxic in large enough doses, potentially causing “nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, salivation, exhaustion and weakness, dilation of pupils, convulsions, and coma”. According to Auburn University’s page on the wildflowers of Alabama, the leaf extracts and fruit may cause “vomiting, sweating, pain and finally death“. Wikipedia also notes further uses including treatment of bronchial problems, colds, use as a substitute for tobacco, and research potential in the study and treatment of neurological disorders.