Definitions

great lobelia

Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower) is a species of Lobelia native to the Americas, from southeastern Canada south through the eastern and southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America to northern Colombia.

Growth

It is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows up to 1.2 m tall and is found in wet places, streambanks, and swamps. The leaves are up to 20 cm long and 5 cm broad, lanceolate to oval, with a toothed margin. The flowers are usually vibrant red, deeply five-lobed, up to 4 cm across; they are produced in an erect raceme up to 70 cm tall during the summer to fall. Forms with white (f. alba) and pink (f. rosea) flowers are also known.

Lobelia cardinalis is related to two other Lobelia species in to the Eastern United States, Lobelia inflata (Indian Tobacco) and Lobelia siphilitica (Great Lobelia); all display the characteristic "lip" petal near the opening of the flower and the "milky" liquid the plant excretes. It has been known to cause an upset in the digestive system when consumed.

Etymology

It was introduced to Europe in the mid 1620s, where the name Cardinal flower was in use by 1629, likely due to the similarity of the flower's color to the miters of Roman Catholic Cardinals.

Cultivation and uses

This plant is easily propagated by dividing and spreading out the young plants which form around the older mature plants each year. Although the plant is generally considered a perennial any one plant may only live 7 to 10 years and then die. To insure that your whole collection of cardinal flowers do not die off at the same time be sure to propagate some new plant lines using seeds at least every 4 years.

Along with red forms of bee balm this plant is a must if you want to attract hummingbirds.

North American indigenous peoples used root tea for a number of intestinal ailments and syphilis. Leaf teas were used by them for bronchial problems and colds, inter alia. The Meskwaki people used it as part of an inhalant against catarrh. Although related to tobacco, it was apparently not smoked, but may have been chewed. The plant contains a number of alkaloids. As a member of the genus Lobelia, it is considered to be potentially toxic.

References

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