A small family of herbs with acrid, milky juices, alternate leaves and loosely spiked, or scattered, irregular flowers.
Although exceedingly bright colored, these flowers are rightly classed as among our most beautiful wild ones; they have a grace of form and a clearness of color that charms everyone. They dispute with Oswego Tea the title of supremacy in the brilliance of their scarlet coloring. As might be expected from their color, they are visited by and chiefly fertilized by the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The simple stem grows to heights of 2 to 4 feet from perennial creeping rootstalks that often throw up new plants; the stalk is hollow and rather closely set with alternating, lance-shaped leaves, the lower ones stemmed and toothed, the upper ones clasping the stem and nearly smooth-edged. The showy flower-spike is loosely set with bright red flowers; the narrow, tubular corolla proceeds from a five-parted calyx, and ends in two lips, the upper having two erect, narrow lobes and the lower a broad three-cleft one, velvety-scarlet; the five stamens are united in an erect tube. The Cardinal Flower is found in moist ground, especially along brooks, blooms in August and September and is found from N. S. to Minn, and southwards.
Cardinal Flower. Lobelia cardinalis.
Great Libelia (Lobelia Siphilitica) has a simple, stout, hairy and leafy stem 1 to 3 feet high. The leaves are oval, toothed and short-stemmed and gradually decrease to the size of bracts at the top of the stem. The light blue-violet flowers appear in the axils of the upper leaves. They are nearly an inch long, two-lipped, the lower one having three spreading lobes and are seated in rather large, rounded calyces. It is common in low, moist ground from Me. to Minn, and southwards; it may be found in bloom from July until September.
A. Spiked Lobelia. Lobelia spictata.
B. Indian Tobacco. Lobelia inflata.
Spiked Lobelia (Lobelia Spicata) is a smaller flowered species having a simple leafy stem from 1 to 4 feet in height. The leaves vary greatly in shape from lance-shaped to oblong, and decrease in size rapidly as they approach the flower spike. The small, pale blue-violet flowers are set in short smooth calyces. The upper lip of the corolla has two small lobes and the lower one is divided into three, larger, spreading ones. It is commonly found in dry, sandy soil from N. S. to Manitoba and southwards.
Indian Tobacco (Lobelia Inflata) is the most common of the Lobelias; it is found growing everywhere in either sandy or moist soil, in woods or in fields. The alternating leaves are pointed-oval and sparingly wavy-toothed; the lower ones are quite large, while the upper ones are very small. The simple stem is stout and quite hairy; it grows from 1 to 2 feet in height. The little blue-violet flowers are barely one quarter inch long, each seated in a large, smooth inflated calyx. This species of Lobelia is used very freely in the compounding of various medicines and, in one form or another, is supposed to cure a great many of the ailments of mankind. The leaves were used by Indians for chewing, but have a very nauseating taste; they have poisonous properties and will cause ill effects if swallowed.
The flower calyces enlarge still more after the corollas have withered away, and form round seed pods that follow closely up the stem on the heels of the flowers, for the succession of bloom is from the bottom of the spike towards the top.
Water Lobelia (Lobelia Dortmanna) is a species found on the borders of ponds or even in the water. The flowers are similar to those of the other species, but the leaves are thick, linear and in a tuft , at the base of the hollow stem. It is quite common from N. E. and N. Y. northwards.