Lobelia cardinalis (syn. L. fulgens, 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. It grows to about a meter tall (when in flower) and has bright red flowers.
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. L. siphilitica has blue flowers and is pollinated by bees, whereas L. cardinalis is red and is pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).
It is often cultivated for ornamental purposes and has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. 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 ensure 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. Human activity also can interfere with the wildlife when getting the original seeds for your collection of "cardinal flowers". Taking seeds or roots of lobelia cardinalis to start your collection will stunt the growth of the "cardinal flower" population.
Medicinal and other uses
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 not related to tobacco, it was apparently not smoked,[contradictory] 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. Native Americans (the Penobscot tribes) smoked the dried leaves as a substitute for tobacco.[contradictory] Lobelia may have potential as a drug for, or in study of, neurological disorders.
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Lobelia cardinalis
- Missouriplants: Lobelia cardinalis
- Caruso, C. M.; Peterson, S. B.; Ridley, C. E. (2003), "Natural selection on floral traits of Lobelia (Lobeliaceae): spatial and temporal variation", American Journal of Botany 90 (9): 1333–40, doi:10.3732/ajb.90.9.1333, PMID 21659233
- Donaldson, C. (1999). Cardinal Flower – Spectacular Scarlet Blossoms That Hummingbirds Adore. Plants & Gardens News 14 (3). online at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Accessed 23 May 2006.
- Guédon, Marie-Françoise. Sacred Smudging in North America, Walkabout Press 2000
- Foster, Steven and James A. Duke. Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants. Peterson Field Guides, Houghton, Mifflin 1990 edn. ISBN 0-395-92066-3
- Felpin F.-X., Lebreton J. , "History, chemistry and biology of alkaloids from Lobelia inflata" Tetrahedron 2004 60:45 (10127-10153)
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