Indian or Wild Tobacco – Flowers

(Lobelia inflata)

Bellflower family

Flowers—Pale blue or violet, small, borne at short intervals in spike-like leafy racemes. Calyx 5-parted, its awlshaped lobes 1/4. in. long, or as long as the tubular, 2-lipped, 5-cleft, corolla that opens to base of tube on upper side. Stamens, 5 united by their hairy anthers into a ring around the 2-lobed style. Stem : From 1 to 3 feet high, hairy, very acrid, much branched, leafy. Leaves : Alternate, oblong or ovate, toothed, the upper ones acute, seated on stem; lower ones obtuse, petioled, 1 to 2 1/2 in. long. Fruit: A much inflated, rounded, ribbed, many seeded capsule.

Preferred Habitat—Dry fields and thickets; poor soil.

Flowering Season—July—November.

Distribution—Labrador westward to the Missouri River, south to Arkansas and Georgia.

The most stupid of the lower animals knows enough to let this poisonous, acrid plant alone; but not so man, who formerly made a quack medicine from it in the days when a drug that set one’s internal organism on fire was supposed to be especially beneficial. One taste of the plant gives a realizing sense of its value as an emetic. How the red man enjoyed smoking and chewing the bitter leaves, except for the drowsiness that followed, is a mystery.

On account of the smallness of its flowers and their scantiness, the Indian tobacco is perhaps the least attractive of the lobelias, none of which has so inflated a seed vessel, the distinguishing characteristic of this common plant.