Friday, December 27, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Great Blue Lobelia

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

This native wildflower has been grown in American flower gardens since at least the beginning of the 19th century. At one time it was thought to be a cure for venereal disease, thus the botanical name. Philadelphia nurserymen John and William Bartram sent seed of the Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and the Great Lobelia (L. siphilitica) to Europe in 1784. In The American Gardener’s Calendar, 1806, Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon named “Lobelias of various kinds” first among the “beautiful ornamental plants [that] may now be collected from the woods, fields, and swamps [to] embellish the Flower-garden and Pleasure-grounds...” McMahon advertised seeds of this species in his 1804 broadsheet and the William Prince Nursery on Long Island offered it in 1818. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are attracted to the tubular flowers, but deer typically avoid this plant due to its toxicity.

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