AppearanceIt 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 and pink flowers are also known.
''Lobelia cardinalis'' is related to two other ''Lobelia'' species in to the Eastern United States, ''Lobelia inflata'' and ''Lobelia siphilitica'' ; 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 primarily pollinated by bees, whereas ''L. cardinalis'' is red and is primarily pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird .
NamingIt was introduced to Europe in the mid-1620s, where the name ''cardinal flower'' was in use by 1629, likely due to the similarity of the flower's color to the vesture of Roman Catholic Cardinals.
DefenseAs a member of the genus ''Lobelia'', it is considered to be potentially toxic. Symptoms of ingestion of large quantities include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, salivation, exhaustion and weakness, dilation of pupils, convulsions, and coma. The plant contains a number of toxic alkaloids including lobelamine and lobeline.
UsesThe Zuni people use this plant as an ingredient of "schumaakwe cakes" and used it externally for rheumatism and swelling. The Penobscot people smoked the dried leaves as a substitute for tobacco. It may also have been chewed.
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