lobelia (lōbēlˈyə) [key], any plant of the genus Lobelia, annual and perennial herbs of tropical and temperate woodlands and moist places. Most lobelias have blue or purple flowers on a long (1–4 ft/30–122 cm), leafy stem. Native North American species, often cultivated as ornamentals, include the only red lobelia, the cardinal flower ( L. cardinalis ), which is becoming rare; the blue lobelia ( L. syphilitica ), used by Native Americans for the treatment of syphilis; and Indian tobacco ( L. inflata ), named for its odor. The dried leaves and stems of Indian tobacco and sometimes of other species furnish medicinal lobelia, the source of lobeline, which is used as a respiratory stimulant but is poisonous in overdose as are the roots. L. erinus, introduced from S Africa, is a common border plant. Most botanists include Lobelia and related genera in the family Campanulaceae (bluebell family); others consider them a separate family, the Lobeliaceae. Lobelia is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Campanulales, family Campanulaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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