Sunday, October 24, 2010

A splash of late color

Most of the flowering plants have withered away, with a few notable exceptions. We're getting ready to enter the long months of winter, a period lacking in blooms save the odd weed pushing forth a flower in some sheltered spot. Thus, it was nice to encounter two species of Lobelia looking good the other day; sort of a botanical finale.

Cardinal-flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is in the foreground, and (this wasn't posed) right behind it was Great Blue Lobelia, L. siphilitica. Darn good looking plants, both of them.

Believe it or not, these species somewhat regularly hybridize, or at least there are a number of records of the cross. Enough so that the spawn of these species has a name: Lobelia x speciosa. I've never seen this hybrid, but would like to. Seems like the two in the above photo have had their chance, but we didn't see anything out of the ordinary in the vicinity.

All manner of plants have long been used medicinally, and still are. Often, their names - especially the scientific names - indicate these uses. In the case of Great Blue Lobelia, it is purported to be a curative for siphilis, hence its formal name Lobelia siphilitica.

Lobelias contain an alkaloid called lobeline, which is sort of a watered-down nicotine. It is probably responsible for reports of improved mental clarity, happiness, and overall good feelings by those who ingest small doses. Unless you really know what you are doing, though, I wouldn't fool with consuming Lobelias or any other wild plant. Take too much, or misidentify and eat the wrong stuff, and the consequences can be dire.


Randy Mitchell said...

I really love your blog!
I am a biologist at the University of Akron. I would like to contact you to ask a question (but since I haven't managed to find an email address for you, I am doing it here on an old but relevant post- I hope that's not a problem).
I am aiming to do some research on pollinator movements between Mimulus ringens and Lobelia siphilitica. I'd like to find sites that have both species reasonably near to one another; ideally interspersed.
Do any likely sites come to mind for this?

Randy Mitchell
rjm2 at uakron dot edu

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks Randy and sorry for the tardy reply. Tough to keep up with all the ways of correspondence these days. No site such as you seek immediately comes to mind, but I would think that searching wooded riparian corridors nearly anywhere would produce fodder. I'm sure I've seen those two in close proximity in times past. Perhaps the Upper Cuyahoga would produce them.