The Lobelia Family Of Flowers

Cardinal Flower; Red Lobelia

Lobelia cardinalis

Flowers—Rich vermilion, very rarely rose or white, I to 1 1/2 in. long, numerous, growing in terminal, erect, green-bracted, more or less 1-sided racemes. Calyx 5-cleft; corolla tubular, split down one. side, 2-lipped; the lower lip with 3 spreading lobes, the upper lip 2-lobed, erect; 5 stamens united into a tube around the style; 2 anthers with hairy tufts. Stem: 2 to 4 1/2 ft. high, rarely branched. Leaves: Oblong to lance-shaped, slightly toothed, mostly sessile.

Preferred Habitat—Wet or low ground, beside streams, ditches, and meadow runnels.

Flowering Season—July—September.

Distribution—New Brunswick to the Gulf states, west-ward to the Northwest Territory and Kansas.

The easy cultivation from seed of this peerless wild flower—and it is offered in many trade catalogues—might save it to those regions in Nature’s wide garden that now know it no more. The ranks of floral missionaries need recruits.

Curious that the great Blue Lobelia should be the cardinal flower’s twin sister! Why this difference of color? Sir John Lubbock proved by tireless experiment that the bees’ favorite color is blue, and the shorter-tubed Blue Lobelia elected to woo them as her benefactors. Whoever has made a study of the ruby-throated humming bird’s habits must have noticed how red flowers entice him—columbines, painted cups, coral honeysuckle, Oswego Tea, trumpet flower, and cardinal in Nature’s garden; cannas, salvia, gladioli, pelargoniums, fuchsias, phloxes, verbenas, and nasturtiums among others in ours.

Great Lobelia; Blue Cardinal Flower

Lobelia syphilitica

Flowers—Bright blue, touched with white, fading to pale blue, about 1 in. long’, borne on tall, erect, leafy spike. Calyx 5-parted, the lobes sharply cut, hairy. Corolla tubular, open to base; on one side, 2-lipped, irregularly 5-lobed, the petals I pronounced at maturity only. Stamens 5, united by their hairy anthers into a tube around the style; larger anthers smooth. Stem: 1 to 3 ft. high, stout, simple, leafy, slightly hairy. Leaves: Alternate, oblong, tapering, pointed, irregularly toothed 2 to 6 in. long, 1/2 to 2 in. wide.

Preferred Habitat—Moist or wet soil; beside streams. Flowering Season—JulyTOctober.

Distribution—Ontario and northern United States west to Dakota, south to Kansas and Georgia

To the evolutionist, ever on the lookout for connecting links, the lobelias form an interesting group, because their corolla, slit down the upper side and somewhat flattened, shows the beginning of the tendency toward the strap or ray flowers that are nearly confined to the composites of much later development, of course, than tubular single blossoms. Next to massing their flowers in showy heads, as the composites do, the lobelias have the almost equally advantageous plan of crowding theirs along a stem so as to make a conspicuous advertisement to attract the passing bee and to offer him the special inducement of numerous feeding places close together.

The handsome Great Lobelia, constantly and invidiously compared with its gorgeous sister the cardinal flower, suffers unfairly. When asked what his favorite color was, Eugene Field replied : “Why, I like any color at all so long as it’s red!” Most men, at least, agree with him, and certainly humming birds do; our scarcity of red flowers being due, we must believe, to the scarcity of humming birds, which chiefly fertilize them. But how bees love the blue blossoms!

Linnaeus named this group of plants for Matthias de l’Obel, a Flemish botanist, or herbalist more likely, who became physician to James I of England.