GREAT LOBELIA BLUE CARDINALFLOWER
(Lobelia syphilitica) Bellflower family
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,
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 - July-October
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 hummingbirds do; our
scarcity of red flowers being due, we must believe, to the
scarcity of hummingbirds, which chiefly fertilize them. But how
bees love the blue blossoms!
There are many cases where the pistil of a flower necessarily
comes in contact with its own pollen, yet fertilization does not
take place, however improbable this may appear. Most orchids, for
example, are not susceptible to their own pollen. It would seem
as if our lobelia, in elevating its stigma through the ring
formed by the united anthers, must come in contact with some of
the pollen they have previously discharged from their tips, not
only on the bumblebee that shakes it out of them when he jars the
flower, but also within the tube. But when the anthers are
mature, the two lobes of the still immature stigma are pressed
together, and cannot be fertilized. Nevertheless, the hairy tips
of some of the anthers brush off the pollen grains that may have
lodged on the stigma as it passes through the ring in its ascent,
thus making surety doubly sure. Only after the stigma projects
beyond the ring of anthers does it expand its lobes, which are
now ready to receive pollen brought from another later flower by
the incoming bumblebee to which it is adapted.
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.
Preferably in dry, sandy soil or in meadows, and over a wide
range, the slender, straight shoots of PALE SPIKED LOBELIA (L.
spicata) bloom early and throughout the summer months, the
inflorescence itself sometimes reaching a height of two feet. At
the base of the plant there is usually a tuft of broadly oblong
leaves; those higher up narrow first into spoon-shaped, then into
pointed, bracts, along the thick and gradually lengthened spike
of scattered bloom. The flowers are oft en pale enough to be
called white. Like their relatives, they first ripen their
anthers to prevent self-fertilization.
The lithe, graceful little BROOK LOBELIA (L. Kalmii), whose
light-blue flowers, at the end of thread-like footstems, form a
loose raceme, sways with a company of its fellows among the grass
on wet banks, beside meadow runnels and brooks, particularly in
limestone soil, from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territory and
southward to New Jersey. It bears an insignificant capsule, not
inflated like the Indian tobacco's; and long, narrow,
spoon-shaped leaves. Twenty inches is the greatest height this
little plant may hope to attain.
Not only beside water, and in it, but often totally immersed,
grows the WATER LOBELIA or GLADIOLE (L. Dortmanna). The slender,
hollow, smooth stem rises from a submerged tuft of round, hollow,
fleshy leaves longitudinally divided by a partition, and bears at
the top a scattered array of pale-blue flowers from August to
INDIAN or WILD TOBACCO; GAG-ROOT; ASTHMA-WEED; BLADDER-POD
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