Bog lobelia

Lobelia kalmii                                 

Common Name: Bog lobelia

  • Characterized by delicate, irregularly shaped blue flowers on smooth stems.
  • The smooth stems grow to be 4-16 inches tall.
  • Flowers in July and August.

Native or Invasive: Native perennial

Characteristics: The flowers are irregularly shaped with a fused, lobed bottom lip and a two-lobed top lip. Once the plant blooms, the bottom of each flower actually becomes the top, as it twists 180° on the stem as it matures. Although the flowers are small, many plants growing together are quite showy. It is a calciphile (alkaline-loving plant) that grows on sand, gravel or marl shores. It is also found inland. Its range extends throughout Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia and from Pennsylvania in the east and Minnesota in the west in the U.S.

Habitat: Grows in calcareous and gravelly waterfront areas.

Fun Fact: Lobelia is named for Matthias de l’Obel, a Flemish herbalist who died in 1616. Kalmii comes from the discoverer of this species of the plant, Pehr Kalm, who lived in the 1700s. Many of the native plants in the region, including bog lobelia bear Kalm’s name, as he was the first to identify and record them. He was a student of Carl Linnaeus, and is also credited for writing the first scientific description of Niagara Falls.

Ethnobotanical Uses: It is used as an emetic, or a substance that induces vomiting. Also used as an infusion for earaches and sores and to counteract love medicines (take that, Aquilegia canadensis and Geranium robertianum).

Adapted from Guide to Great Lakes Coastal Plants, by Ellen Elliott Weatherbee, University of Michigan Press.