Stem. - Leafy, somewhat hairy, one to three feet high. Leaves. - Alternate, ovate to lance-shaped, thin, irregularly toothed. Flowers. - Rather large, light blue, spiked. Calyx. - Five-cleft, with a short tube. Corolla. - Somewhat two-lipped, the upper lip of two rather erect lobes, the lower spreading and three-cleft. Pistil. - One, with a fringed stigma.
The great lobelia is a striking plant which grows in low ground, flowering in midsummer. In some places it is called "High-Belia," a pun which is supposed to reflect upon the less tall and conspicuous species, such as the Indian tobacco, L. inflata, which are found flowering at the same season.
If one of its blossoms is examined, the pistil is seen to be enclosed by the united stamens in such a fashion as to secure self-fertilization, one would suppose. But it is hardly probable that a flower as noticeable as this, and wearing a color as popular as blue, should have adorned itself so lavishly to no purpose. Consequently we are led to inquire more closely into its domestic arrangements. Our curiosity is rewarded by the discovery that the lobes of the stigma are so tightly pressed together that they can at first receive no pollen upon their sensitive surfaces. We also find that the anthers open only by a pore at their tips, and when irritated by the jar of a visiting bee, discharge their pollen upon its body through these outlets. This being accomplished the fringed stigma pushes forward, brushing aside whatever pollen may have fallen within the tube. When it finally projects beyond the anthers, it opens, and is ready to receive its pollen from the next insect-visitor.
Plate XCV. Great Lobelia. - L. syphilitica
The genus is named after an early Flemish herbalist, de l'Obel.