The generic name is in honor of M. Lobel, physician and botanist to James I. The genus is very large, containing more than eighty species. The predominant color is blue. Many of the family are very ornamental. The most desirable for the border, that are much known, are L. cardincdis, siphilitica, ful-gens, splendens, and speciosa. The two first will stand the winter very well, with some protection; but the last three must be potted in the fall, and kept in a frame, or in the cellar, and planted out in the spring.
Lobelia cardinalis. - Scarlet Cardinal Flower. - This splendid native plant embellishes the borders of our brooks and rivulets, in the months of July and August, with its unrivalled scarlet blossoms. It is a mistaken notion that it will flourish only in wet ground. I have taken it up, when growing in water, and planted it in a soil that was far from being moist, with good success. It was introduced into England in 1629, and, to this day, is duly appreciated. Justice, who published a work on gardening, in 1754, in describing it, says :- "It is a flower of most handsome appearance, which should not be wanting in curious gardens, as it excels all other flowers I ever knew in the richness of its color." It has an erect stem, two to three feet high, with broad lanceolate, serrate leaves; flowers in terminal spikes, pointing one way. The roots of all the species are composed of many white fleshy fibres.
L. fulgens, - the Fulgent Cardinal Flower, - is a native of Mexico, and was introduced into England in 1S09. Leaves narrow lanceolate, toothed, revolute at the edge; stem pubescent, (downy,) three feet high; its bright scarlet flowers in terminal racemes.
L. splendens, - the Splendid Cardinal Flower, - is also a native of Mexico, introduced into England in 1814. Leaves narrow lanceolate; stem quite smooth, three feet high; flowers brilliant scarlet, in terminal racemes.
L. injlafa, or Bladder-podded Lobelia, is probably familiar with every one, at least 'its name. Its virtues are so highly prized by some, that we are almost led to suppose that it is a sovereign remedy for all diseases that flesh and blood are heir to. The plant is an annual, of not much interest, with small blue flowers, and inflated pods or seed-vessels, common in dry pastures and road sides. The whole plant is a violent emetic. It is not used often by regular practitioners.
L. speciosa, - the Showy Cardinal Flower, - "is a new and very late introduced variety. It was found growing among the other varieties, in a flower border in Scotland, and is supposed to oe a hybrid between siphilitica, and either fulgens or cardinalis. Its rich purple blossoms form a fine contrast with the bright scarlet ones of the other varieties." The leaves like ful-gens; stem also pubescent.
L. siphilitica, - the Blue Cardinal Flower, - is a native of Virginia, and introduced into England in 1665. "It has its specific name from its supposed efficacy in the cure of the syphilis, among the North American Indians. Sir William Johnson purchased the secret from them, but Woodville says its virtues have not been confirmed by any instance of European practice." Stem erect, two feet high; raceme leafy, with flowers of a bright sky-blue.
The treatment is the same for all those enumerated. I once had them in great perfection, having a soil and situation well adapted to their growth, with a little preparation. The soil, naturally, was a black, heavy loam, upon a clay and gravel subsoil, a little springy, and never very dry. On the spots designed for their location, I threw four or five shovelfuls of river-sand, and two of partly decomposed night-soil compost, and had it thoroughly incorporated with the soil, for two feet round, which made it quite light, and placed the plants in the centre. They began to flower in July, and continued to throw up vigorous stems, with an abundance of flowers, until October Their growth was so luxuriant, that it was necessary to tie them up to slender rods, stuck into the ground, a number of times, to prevent them from being broken by the wind. Cardinalis and fulgens were more than three feet high; the others between two and three feet. They may be easily propagated, by laying the* stems in July and August, or dividing the roots in the spring, or by seed.
" Van Mons observes, that L. cardinalis perishes in sandy soil, but becomes strong and multiplies in loam, while, at the same time, it produces the most brilliant colors in the former.
"The same thing may doubtless be predicted of the other species, it being a well-known law of nature, as to living beings, that their energies are concentrated in proportion to the obstacles thrown in the way of their expansion."
L. spicata. - Synom. pallida. - A beautiful indigenous species, common in most pastures and by the road sides, with lively pale-blue flowers, in long terminal spikes, in July Stem upright, smooth, a little hairy, one and a half foot high. I have never seen this species cultivated, but have no doubt but what it would be very much improved, and prove a valuable acquisition to the border.
I have succeeded with Lobelia cardinalis, in rather a dry, loamy soil, without much care; but, to have it in its greatest perfection, it should have a moist location.