Apr. 13, 2018

great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica

Great blue lobelia is one of our largest flowered, most beautiful lobelias. Its species name was bestowed in a time when it was hoped to be effective in relieving symptoms of that dreaded disease. Millspaugh in Medicinal Plants in 1892 says "The natives of North America are said to have held this plant a secret in the cure of syphilis, until it was purchased from them by Sir William Johnson, who took a quantity to Europe [ca. 1750], and introduced it as a drug of great repute in that disease." It soon became clear that it did not work. It is estimated that Johnson fathered as many as 100 illegitimate children, so the disease may have been one of his fears. Could the wily Indian have scammed Sir William? Great blue lobelia grows in damp ground in AL, AR, CO, CT, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA(E), MD, ME(X), MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY(V), OH, OK, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, WV, WY, NB, and ON. Ives Fen Preserve, Lenawee Co MI, 9/16/11.