For other uses, see Lobelia (disambiguation).
Lobelia erinus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): 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 (/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 is named after the Belgian botanist Matthias de Lobel (1538–1616).[8] Some botanists place the genus and its relatives in the separate family Lobeliaceae, others as a subfamily Lobelioideae within the Campanulaceae. The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group did not make a firm decision on this, listing the genus under both families.

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.[11]


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

Cultivation and uses

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.[12] This plant is borderline hardy and requires fertile, moist soil. It is suitable for summer bedding schemes or growing in containers. The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-

  • L. × speciosa 'Fan Orchidrosa'[13]
  • L. × speciosa 'Fan Scharlach'[14]
  • L. × speciosa 'Fan Tiefrot'[15]
  • L. × speciosa 'Fan Zinnoberrosa'[16]
  • L. × speciosa 'Kompliment Scharlach'[17]
  • L. × speciosa 'Pink Elephant'[18]

Traditional medicine

Native Americans used lobelia to treat respiratory and muscle disorders, and as a purgative. The species used most commonly in modern herbalism is Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco).[19] However, there are adverse effects that limit the use of lobelia.[20]

Lobelia has been used as "asthmador" in Appalachian folk medicine[21]

Two species, L. siphilitica and L. cardinalis, were once considered a cure for syphilis.[22]

Herbalist Samuel Thomson popularized medicinal use of lobelia in the United States in the early 19th century, as well as other medicinal plants like goldenseal.[19] The eccentric New Englander Elias Smith, a preacher and alternative medicine advocate, plagiarized much of Thomson's system. A unique feature of Smith's system was the identification of Lobelia (a.k.a. pukeweed) with the 'plant of renown' referred to in Ezekiel 34:29.[23] Believing that the United States held eschatological significance, Smith believed that this plant was provided by God to democratize medical treatment, just as Smith's preaching was a democratization of theology.

One species, Lobelia chinensis (called bàn biān lián, in Chinese), is used as one of the fifty fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine.

One unpublished study showed that lobeline—an alkaloid derived from lobelia—is ineffective in helping people to quit smoking after 6 weeks.[24]

Chemical constituents


Extracts of Lobelia inflata contain lobeline, which can reverse P-glycoprotein-dependent drug resistance in certain tumor cell lines in vitro.[26] Lobelia chinensis contains apigenin, lobeline, lobelanine, isolobelanine, lobelanidine, quercetin, coumarins, glucosides and various flavonoids.[27][28][29]

Adverse effects

Because of its similarity to nicotine, the internal use of lobelia may be dangerous to susceptible populations, including children, pregnant women,[30] and individuals with cardiac disease. Excessive use will cause nausea and vomiting.[31] 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, which may cause dizziness.


Species include:[32][33]

Erect Lobelia plant
Giant lobelias (Lobelia deckenii), Mount Kenya

Mexican spurred lobelias

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.[36]

Partial list:

Formerly placed here


  1. "Genus: Lobelia L.". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 1999-01-27. 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". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  5. "Lobelia". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  6. Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  7. Lammers, Thomas. "Revision of the Infrageneric Classification of Lobelia L. (Campanulaceae: Lobelioideae)". Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 98: 37–62. doi:10.3417/2007150.
  8. 1 2 Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
  9. Lobelia. USDA PLANTS.
  10. 1 2 RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
  11. 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.
  12. Paghat's Garden: "Fan Burgundy" Cardinal Flower
  13. "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia x speciosa 'Fan Orchidrosa'". Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  14. "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia x speciosa 'Fan Scharlach'". Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  15. "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia x speciosa 'Fan Tiefrot'". Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  16. "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia x speciosa 'Fan Zinnoberrosa'". Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  17. "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia x speciosa 'Kompliment Scharlach'". Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  18. "RHS Plant Selector - Lobelia x speciosa 'Pink Elephant'". Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  19. 1 2 "Lobelia". EBSCO Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Review Board. January 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  20. "Risky pills: Supplements to avoid". Consumer reports. 73 (1): 46–7. 2008. PMID 18488285.
  21. 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
  22. Guédon, Marie-Françoise (2000). Sacred Smudging in North America. Walkabout Press.
  23. Timothy Earl Fulop, "Elias Smith and the Quest for Gospel Liberty: Popular Religion and Democratic Radicalism in Early Nineteenth-Century New England", Ph.D. thesis, Department of Religion, Princeton University, 1992 p.246
  24. Lancaster, T; Stead, L; Silagy, C; Sowden, A (2000). "Effectiveness of interventions to help people stop smoking: findings from the Cochrane Library". BMJ (Clinical research ed.). 321 (7257): 355–8. doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7257.355. PMC 1118332Freely accessible. PMID 10926597.
  25. 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 3186287Freely accessible. PMID 21778282.
  26. 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.
  27. Chen, J. X.; Huang, S. H.; Wang, Y; Shao, M; Ye, W. C. (2010). "Studies on the chemical constituents from Lobelia chinensis". Zhong yao cai = Zhongyaocai = Journal of Chinese medicinal materials. 33 (11): 1721–4. PMID 21434431.
  28. Chen, M. W.; Chen, W. R.; Zhang, J. M.; Long, X. Y.; Wang, Y. T. (2014). "Lobelia chinensis: Chemical constituents and anticancer activity perspective". Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines. 12 (2): 103–7. doi:10.1016/S1875-5364(14)60016-9. PMID 24636059.
  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.
  30. Lobelia, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
  31. Lobelia, drugs.com
  32. 1 2 "GRIN Species Records of Lobelia". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 1999-01-27. Retrieved 2011-02-03.
  33. "Lobelia". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  34. http://florabase.dec.wa.gov.au/browse/profile.php/37480
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 World Checklist
  36. 1 2 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.
  37. Díaz, Sara C.; Touchan, Ramzi; Swetnam, Thomas W. (2001). "A tree-ring reconstruction of past precipitation for Baja California Sur, Mexico". International Journal of Climatology. 21 (8): 1007–1019. doi:10.1002/joc.664.
  38. ipni.org

Further reading

Everitt, J.H.; Lonard, R.L.; Little, C.R. (2007). Weeds in South Texas and Northern Mexico. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 0-89672-614-2. 

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