Lobelia cardinalis

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.

Lobelia cardinalis

6 responses to “Lobelia cardinalis”

  1. Cherries Walks

    Yep, you always need to look up the uses of a plant from more than one source!

  2. Annie in Texas

    Stunning shade of red. Really lovely photo.

  3. debbie

    Beautiful photo! I had never noticed the grey cap- I suppose the stigma. Didn’t know the medicinal value, but other Lobelias also have respiratory value.

  4. Kate

    I love this plant and the brilliant red. Plant it in one place and it shows up elsewhere the next years. I always enjoy this surprise late summer.

  5. Mirdza

    This photo isa visual delight and the information on the plant so interesting. I took a wildflower hike in Colorado years ago and was amazed at how many of the loveliest flowers cash be poisonous to people and livestock.
    My husband is passionate about the deep blue lobelia here in New Orleans. It is a nursery plant of course and not that easy to grow. Doesn’t bloom as well.

  6. michael aman

    I remember Lobelia cardinalis from my teenage years living on the family dairy farm in Upstate New York. Every late afternoon the milk cows needed to return to the barn after spending the day grazing in the pasture. From their meadow, they had free range into the hillside woods. But their favorite place was in the swamp alongside the main creek. There a yazoo stream provided excellent cover for hiding and grazing on early season wild apples in August. Most would return to the barn obediently. But a few renegades would linger and hide in the scrub, unwilling for their day to end. Not a problem, since retrieving bossy allowed time to inventory what was blooming in the swamp. Jump from hummock to hummock, try to keep your shoes dry, turn a corner, and there you might find errant bossy chomping on windfall apples. Or you might find a clump of cardinal flower growing in the muck that arrested you, brought you to a sudden hushed stop, the neon, almost psychedelic red glowing like velvet in the half gloom, blinking off and on, seemed to be saying, “Stop a while. Stop. Stop and worship.”

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