Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Great Blue Lobelia

We've already dedicated one Wednesday to Cardinal Flower, so today let's explore its equally beautiful and stately counterpart.

Great Blue Lobelia can be found growing east of the Rockies, partial to swamps, stream banks, wetlands, roadside ditches and moist woodlands.

Its robust, deep blue spires are unmistakable, and complement Cardinal Flower's fiery red blossoms. Their bloom times and habitats overlap, and they can sometimes be seen mingling together, although Great Blue Lobelia is usually seen blooming later in the season.

The densely covered flower stalks average 2-4 feet in height, usually unbranching (but they will occasionally branch, especially if eaten or cut down).

The individual violet-blue flowers measure an inch long, and like other lobelias, are composed of a two-lipped corolla, with the larger, lower lip divided into three sharp lobes.

The alternating leaves are 3-5 inches long and have long, toothed margins.

Its Latin name is Lobelia siphilitica. Siphilitica does indeed originate from the word Syphilis, a disease this plant was at one time thought to cure.

Other synonyms for Great Blue Lobelia include Blue Cardinal Flower and Highbelia.

While Great Blue Lobelia's robust size and densely packed blooms set it apart rather well, there is at least one other lobelia that occurs within its range that deserves mention: Downy Lobelia, or Lobelia puberula.

It is also a late season bloomer, and can be found in both damp or dry soil.

Downy Lobelia's flower stalk isn't so densely packed as Great Blue Lobelia, and the flowers are only on one side of the raceme.

Like its cousin Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia contains the alkaloid lobeline, rendering it potentially toxic to humans.

However, its list of historical medicinal uses is a long one.

To the Cherokee, Great Blue Lobelia was used in exactly the same way as Cardinal Flower, treating everything from fevers to arthritis to headaches.

Some tribes did use it to treat venereal disease, although it wasn't found to be effective when used in Europe. However, Native Americans used the fresh root (which contains the volatile oils) and also used it along with Mayapple (Podopyllum pelatum) and Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana).

A tea was brewed for stomach ailments and a poultice of crushed leaves was applied to the head to relieve headaches.

An infusion was used to treat colds and fevers.

Some tribes believed that if you secretly added the finely ground roots to the food of an arguing couple, that their anger would disappear and their love for one another would be rekindled.

Great Blue Lobelia is beloved by pollinators, attracting mostly long-tonged bees, but also the occasional butterfly or hummingbird.

It does very well in cultivation. While it makes a most excellent wetland or rain garden plant, it can do surprisingly well in moderately moist or clay soil.

As long as it is in the shade, it will thrive in drier locations. The more sun it receives, however, the wetter its feet need to be.

It also holds up quite well in flower arrangements.

It is a long, late bloomer, and will provide beauty for several months through the summer and fall.

Great Blue Lobelia can still be found hanging on, peering out of the brush in tucked away gorges and sheltered stream banks during these first few weeks of autumn. Its stunning blue blossoms are all the more conspicuous, now that the foliage is beginning to blaze.

Even with the first frost only weeks away, there are many other blooms to be found in the hills and hollows of Tennessee. We will still get to greet a few more characters before winter's chill takes hold.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower, Jerusalem Artichoke.

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Plants for a Future

Illinois Wildflowers

Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart

Cherokee Plants and their Uses - a 400 Year History - Paul B. Hamel & Mary U. Chiltoskey


  1. Lovely pictures! Such intense color, just beautiful. Visiting from Flaggstaff Home.

  2. Such a pretty flower! Thanks for sharing at My Flagstaff Home!


  3. Such pretty shots - thanks so much for sharing. :)