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Lobelia (aka).jpg
Lobelia erinus
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Campanulaceae
Subfamily: Lobelioideae
Genus: Lobelia
Type species
Lobelia cardinalis
    • Mecoschistum Dulac
    • Rapuntium Mill.
    • Dortmanna Hill
    • Cardinalis Fabr.
    • Laurentia Michx. ex Adans.
    • Chamula Noronha
    • Pratia Gaudich.
    • Holostigma G.Don
    • Tupa G.Don
    • Enchysia C.Presl
    • Hypsela C.Presl
    • Trimeris C.Presl
    • Tylomium C.Presl
    • Rhynchopetalum Fresen.
    • Isolobus A.DC.
    • Piddingtonia A.DC.
    • Holostigmateia Rchb.
    • Colensoa Hook.f.
    • Speirema Hook.f. & Thomson
    • Euhaynaldia Borbás
    • Dortmannia Kuntze
    • Galeatella (E.Wimm.) O.Deg. & I.Deg. in O.Degener
    • Neowimmeria O.Deg. & I.Deg
    • Calcaratolobelia Wilbur
Lobelia erinus in an alpine border

Lobelia (/lˈbliə, lə-/[4][5][6]) is a genus of flowering plants comprising 415 species,[7] with a subcosmopolitan distribution primarily in tropical to warm temperate regions of the world, a few species extending into cooler temperate regions.[8] They are known generally as lobelias.[9]


The genus Lobelia comprises a substantial number of large and small annual, perennial and shrubby species, hardy and tender, from a variety of habitats, in a range of colours. Many species appear totally dissimilar from each other. However, all have simple, alternate leaves and two-lipped tubular flowers, each with five lobes. The upper two lobes may be erect while the lower three lobes may be fanned out. Flowering is often abundant and the flower colour intense, hence their popularity as ornamental garden subjects.[10]


The genus Lobelia was first formally described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus in Species plantarum and was named after the Flemish botanist Matthias de Lobel (1538–1616).[11][12][13]

Lobelia is probably the base form from which many other lobelioid genera are derived; it is therefore highly paraphyletic and not a good genus in a cladistic sense. For example, the Hawaiian species (see Hawaiian lobelioids), currently classified in several genera, originated from a single introduction to a now-submerged Hawaiian Island 15 million years ago, probably from an Asian Lobelia in Lobelia subg. Tupa.[14]

A New Zealand study concluded that local species of Hypsela, Isotoma and Pratia should be treated as Lobelia.[15]

Species list[edit]

See List of Lobelia species


Lobelia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the Setaceous Hebrew Character.

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Several species are cultivated as ornamental plants in gardens. These include Lobelia cardinalis syn. Lobelia fulgens (cardinal flower or Indian pink), Lobelia siphilitica (blue lobelia), and Lobelia erinus, which is used for edging and window boxes.[10]


Numerous hybrids have been produced, notably Lobelia × speciosa, a hybrid derived from L. fulgens, L. cardinalis & L. siphilitica. The term "fan hybrids" is also used.[16] This plant is borderline hardy and requires fertile, moist soil. It is suitable for summer bedding schemes or growing in containers. The cultivars 'Kompliment Scharlach'[17] and 'Pink Elephant'[18] have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[19]

Traditional medicine[edit]

The species used most commonly in modern herbalism is Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco).[20] Use of lobelia for cardiovascular diseases may cause adverse effects.[21]

Lobelia has been used as "asthmador" in Appalachian traditional medicine.[22] Two species, L. siphilitica and L. cardinalis, were once considered a cure for syphilis.[23] Herbalist Samuel Thomson popularized medicinal use of lobelia in the United States in the early 19th century.[20]

Adverse effects[edit]

Many members of the genus are considered poisonous, with some containing the toxic principle lobeline.[24] Because of lobeline's similarity to nicotine, the internal use of lobelia may be dangerous to susceptible populations, including children, pregnant women,[25] and individuals with cardiac disease. Excessive use will cause nausea and vomiting.[26] It is not recommended for use by pregnant women and is best administered by a practitioner qualified in its use. It also has a chemical known as lobellicyonycin,[citation needed] which may cause dizziness.

Chemical constituents[edit]

Extracts of Lobelia inflata contain lobeline[28] and those from Lobelia chinensis contain apigenin, lobeline, lobelanine, isolobelanine, lobelanidine, quercetin, coumarins, glucosides and other flavonoids.[29]

Giant lobelias (Lobelia deckenii), Mount Kenya

Mexican spurred lobelias[edit]

About eleven species native to Mexico and Central America have spurs on the flowers. These spurred lobelias appear to form a monophyletic group. Most have been classified in the genera Heterotoma (or sometimes Calcaratolobelia). However, since their closest relatives such as Lobelia anatina are in Lobelia, Koopman and Ayers classify them in Lobelia.[30]


  1. ^ "Genus: Lobelia L." Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 1999-01-27. Archived from the original on 2010-05-29. Retrieved 2011-02-03.
  2. ^ lectotype designated by Hitchcock & Green, Nomenclature, Proposals by British Botanists 184 (1929)
  3. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  4. ^ "Lobelia". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2019-12-20.
  5. ^ "Lobelia". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  6. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  7. ^ Lammers, Thomas (2011). "Revision of the Infrageneric Classification of Lobelia L. (Campanulaceae: Lobelioideae)". Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 98: 37–62. doi:10.3417/2007150. S2CID 84676862.
  8. ^ Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
  9. ^ Lobelia. USDA PLANTS.
  10. ^ a b RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  11. ^ "Lobelia". APNI. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  12. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1753). Species Plantarum. p. 929. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  13. ^ Johnson, A.T.; Smith, H.A. & Stockdale, A.P. (2019), Plant Names Simplified : Their Pronunciation Derivation & Meaning, Sheffield, Yorkshire: 5M Publishing, ISBN 9781910455067, p. 89
  14. ^ Craig C. Buss; Thomas G. Lammers; Robert R. Wise; Craig C. Buss; Thomas G. Lammers; Robert R. Wise (2001). "Seed Coat Morphology and Its Systematic Implications in Cyanea and Other Genera of Lobelioideae (Campanulaceae)". American Journal of Botany. 88 (7): 1301–1308. doi:10.2307/3558341. JSTOR 3558341. PMID 11454630.
  15. ^ Knox, E. B.; Heenan, P. B.; Muasya, A. M.; Murray, B. G. (2008). "Phylogenetic position and relationships of Lobelia glaberrima (Lobeliaceae), a new alpine species from southern South Island (New Zealand)". New Zealand Journal of Botany. 46 (1): 77–85. doi:10.1080/00288250809509755. S2CID 84665178.
  16. ^ Paghat's Garden: "Fan Burgundy" Cardinal Flower
  17. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia × speciosa 'Kompliment Scharlach'". Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  18. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia × speciosa 'Pink Elephant'". Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  19. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. March 2020. p. 66. Retrieved 25 October 2020.
  20. ^ a b "Lobelia". EBSCO Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Review Board. January 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  21. ^ Cohen, P. A.; Ernst, E (2010). "Safety of herbal supplements: A guide for cardiologists". Cardiovascular Therapeutics. 28 (4): 246–53. doi:10.1111/j.1755-5922.2010.00193.x. PMID 20633025.
  22. ^ AJ Giannini, AE Slaby, MC Giannini. Handbook of Overdose and Detoxification Emergencies. New Hyde Park, NY Medical Examination Publishing,1982. Pp.53-56. ISBN 0-87488-182-X
  23. ^ Guédon, Marie-Françoise (2000). Sacred Smudging in North America. Walkabout Press.
  24. ^ Bergner P. (1998). "Lobelia toxicity: A literature review". Medical Herbalism. 10 (1–2): 15–34.
  25. ^ Lobelia, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
  26. ^ Lobelia, drugs.com
  27. ^ Horton, D. B.; Siripurapu, K. B.; Zheng, G; Crooks, P. A.; Dwoskin, L. P. (2011). "Novel N-1,2-dihydroxypropyl analogs of lobelane inhibit vesicular monoamine transporter-2 function and methamphetamine-evoked dopamine release". Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 339 (1): 286–97. doi:10.1124/jpet.111.184770. PMC 3186287. PMID 21778282.
  28. ^ Ma Y, Wink M (Sep 2008). "Lobeline, a piperidine alkaloid from Lobelia can reverse P-gp dependent multidrug resistance in tumor cells". Phytomedicine. 15 (9): 754–8. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2007.11.028. PMID 18222670.
  29. ^ Yang, S; Shen, T; Zhao, L; Li, C; Zhang, Y; Lou, H; Ren, D (2014). "Chemical constituents of Lobelia chinensis". Fitoterapia. 93: 168–74. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2014.01.007. PMID 24444893. S2CID 26186424.
  30. ^ Koopman, M. M.; Ayers, T. J. (2005). "Nectar spur evolution in the Mexican lobelias (Campanulaceae: Lobelioideae)". American Journal of Botany. 92 (3): 558–62. doi:10.3732/ajb.92.3.558. PMID 21652434.


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