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Gardeners' Dirt: Lobelia flower that catches your attention

By By Jean Wofford - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Nov. 15, 2012 at 5:15 a.m.

The brilliant, eye-catching blue lobelia flower blooms in cool weather through the winter and into the spring until the weather gets warm.

WHY CHOOSE LOBELIA?

•  Unusual color not commonly seen in other flowers.

• Readily available in the fall.

•  Easy to grow.

•  Responds well to light feeding.

•  Grows in sun after weather cools.

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When I first saw lobelia growing in a landscape, I had to know what it was. The brilliant blue is an unusual color for a bloom and is so vibrant that I just had to know more about it.



When is it available?

Lobelia is in the nurseries this time of the year. Make sure the days are cooler before planting. It should be set in the ground the same time of the year as pansies and has many of the same growing requirements.



Where do I plant it?

Lobelia needs to be planted in a well-prepared bed in full sun. The soil will need to be viable and able to drain well. A little bit of dry plant food would be good to just work into the bed before planting.

Lobelia does not like to be over watered, and the plants will rot if you don't take precaution with this. Remember, our fall/winter sun isn't as hot as the spring/summer sun, usually. Lobelia can be planted in a pot, hanging basket or in the ground. It makes a beautiful flowing bed of vibrant blue and will last until the weather gets hot.



Companion plantings

Try a color bowl or shallow dish with the creeping crystal palace blue variety with companion red or white petunia or cyclamen plants and dusty Miller for a showy holiday presentation. Solid lobelia bowls with paperwhites or ornamental green with white kale are also eye-catching combinations.

Lobelia can tolerate shade into the spring with blooms lasting longer. Consider the solid lobelia with chilled tulips after the first of the year. Lobelia also comes in white and pink as well as in an upright variety.



A bit of history

Lobelia was named after botanist Matthais deLobel in the 16th century. He is credited with being the first person to attempt to classify plants according to their natural affinities, instead of their medicinal uses. He was a physician to King James I, of England, as well as a botanist. In fact, he lived out his life supervising the gardens of a baron. Remember, this is according to related stories in my research.



What is its origin?

Also according to my findings, lobelia originated in the United States and Canada. The early settlers found the plant to be so beautiful, they sent it back to England and France in the 1600s.

Legends

I found several legends attached to this plant. Some said it was used to find love - if you touched the plant, you would find love. I don't know about that. However, legends are very often ... well, legends. The American Indians were said to use the flowers as love charms. Again, that is a legend.

Uses

This plant was used by Native Indians for medicine. One source said the Cherokee people used this plant to make a poultice to stop headaches and used it in some way for nosebleeds. I would not want to depend on this beautiful plant for medical uses and do not recommend it. Remember, this is all in the legend of the plant.

Other names

I found some of the names given this lovely plant to be very interesting. It was called "wild tobacco," for obvious reasons. Remember, this was given as part of the legend of the plant. The plant was also called pukeweed since it was said to be used to induce vomiting. I thought these other names were interesting and certainly used by Native Indians in unique ways. Since there were no stores to buy products, they had to use what they had. Hard to believe compared to the way we live now.



Let it catch your attention

The first time I saw this plant, it caught my attention. I stopped and asked what it was. The person who had the plants didn't know and had just bought lobelias because they were so beautifully blue that they caught their attention, too. Naturally, I went to the nursery and was told the name of the plant. Its color alone makes it an interesting addition to any cool-weather setting. Let it catch your attention like it caught mine.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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