Lobelia Cardinalis. Cardinal Flower.

Botanical name: 

Fig. 140. Flower of Lobelia cardinalis. PARTS USED.—The entire plant, Lobelia cardinalis, Linnaeus.

Natural Order, Campanulaceae, Tribe Lobelieae.

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—There is no difficulty in recognizing this plant without a detailed botanical description. Having the peculiar flower structure of the Lobelia genus (described on page 64) it is at once known by its bright scarlet flowers, so brilliant indeed as to attract immediate attention from anyone who sees it in bloom.

In this country we have but two red flowered species of this genus. Lobelia cardinalis, which is common over most of the territory east of the Mississippi, and Lobelia splendens, very similar in appearances, but confined to the extreme southwest near the Mexican border, and hence, not liable to be confused.

In size, habit and general appearances, the plant resembles Lobelia syphilitica, (described and illustrated on page 98,) but strongly distinguished from it by the color. The flowers of the Lobelia cardinalis are more slender, the column longer, and the calyx destitute of the reflexed auricles between the segments. Over the greater portion of this country, the two species Lobelia cardinalis and Lobelia syphilitica are all of the genus that have large enough flowers, (over an inch long) to attract attention; the former having red, the latter blue flowers, they are readily distinguished from each other and from all other species.

The peculiar bright red color of the large flowers of Lobelia cardinalis is so bright as to pale almost any comparison we can make. No colored illustration we have ever seen of the plant does it justice, and the usual fault of colored work is the over-coloring of plants. When the plant is dried carefully the color is preserved as bright as when fresh, and it is very permanent, remaining a beautiful herbarium specimen for a number of years.

As so much space has been given in this work describing the botanical characters of Lobelia inflata and Lobelia syphilitica, we do not deem it necessary to give a further description of this plant.

BOTANICAL HISTORY.—The richness of coloring of the bright scarlet flowers of this plant attracted the attention of early settlers and travelers, and it was sent to Europe very soon after the discovery of this country. It was first sent to France by the French settlers in America.

Over 250 years ago, (1629,) Parkinson described and figured it from plants in cultivation in his garden at London and informs us that he received it from France. [Paradisi in sole Paradisus terrestris, John Parkinson, London, 1629, page 356 and plate 355. Described under the name "Trachelium Americarum, flore ruberrimo, sive Planta Cardinalis,"] He states, "it groweth neere the river of Canada, where the French plantation in America is seated." It soon became common in cultivation in Europe, especially in botanical gardens, and is mentioned in most of the earliest works on American plants. [1629.—Parkinson Paradisi, p. 356.—Trachelium Americanum flore ruberrimo, sive Planta Cardinalis.
1718.—Ruppius, Flora Jenensis. p. 201.—Cardinalis rivini.
1644.—Columna, Notis et Additionibus ad Rerum Medicarum, Recho.—Rapuntium maximum coccineo spicato flore.
1719.—Tournefort, Institutiones Rei Herbaria:, p. 163.—Same.
1680.—Morison. Historia Plantarum, part 2. page 466.—Rapuntium galeatum, virginianum seu americanum, roccines flore majore.
1737.—Linnaeus. Hortus Cliffortianus, p. 426.—Lobelia caule erecto, foliis lanceolatis obsolete serratis, raceme terminatrici.
1730.—Gronovius. Flora Virginia, p. 134.—Same.
1740.—Royen, Flora Leydensis, p. 241.—Lobelia caule erecto, foliis lanceolatis serratis, spica terminale.
1748.—Linnaeus. Hortus Upsaliensis, p. 276.—Same.]

[John Parkinson was an apothecary of London in the sixteenth century when botany was in its infancy. He wrote two very extensive works, which remain to this day as monuments of his preseverance and labor; the first, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, a description of the different species and varieties of plants in cultivation in English gardens and the first work describing and figuring these plants; the second, Theatrum Botanicum, a description of all the then known plants of the world, about 3800.]

In the very early works it was described under the generic name Trachelium or later Rapuncu-lus, (see generic history of lobelia, p. 66,) and it was called "Planta Cardinalis," Cardinal plant, by the earliest French.

Parkinson, the first to describe it, calls it, "the rich, crimson Cardinal's flower," stating, "this hath his name in the title, as it is called in France from whence I received plants for my garden with the Latin name; but I have given it in English."

Tournefort (1719) says, "Cardinale, couleur de feu" (Cardinal flower, color of fire). The name is in allusion to the bright, scarlet color of the flowers, which are the same hue as the scarlet hat worn by a cardinal, and not from the shape of the flower. Linnaeus adopted this for the specific name of the plant, calling it Lobelia cardinalis by which name it has always been described with the single synonym of Rapuntium cardinalis by Miller.

MEDICAL HISTORY AND PROPERTIES.—Schoepf, 1785, [Materia Medica Americana, p. 128.] first referred to this plant, describing it as milky and acrid, and posessing properties similar to those of Lobelia syphilitica. It is evident that he knew but little of it.

Barton, 1802, [Collections for a Materia Medica, part 1st, p. 40, and part 2nd, p. xiv.] refers to the Cherokee Indians using an infusion of Lobelia cardinalis, and the powder of the plant, for worms. This is agreed to by Rafinesque, 1830, [Medical Flora of the United Stales, vol. ii., p. 26.] who also makes very brief mention of the drug. These statements have furnished the foundation for subsequent writers to class the plant with anthelmintics, as is usually done. However, the Indians made but little use of it, if any, prefering spigelia, and even Prof. Barton gives but little attention to the drug. The plain facts are that absolutely nothing is known regarding the medical action of the plant.

CONSTITUENTS.—Prof. William Procter, Jr, 1839, [Am. Journ. Pharm., 1839, p 280.] made an analysis of Lobelia cardnialis, obtaining an alkaloid-like body as follows. The herb was dried, macerated with water that had been acidulated with acetic acid, the watery product neutralized with magnesia and then exhausted with sulphuric ether. The ethereal solution was evaporated, yielding an aromatic-like oily thick liquid of a brown color. It was soluble in turpentine, ether and alcohol; was of alkaline reaction, neutralized acids, and fomed crystalline salts with acids. Its taste was bitter and acrid. This body was doubtless a mixture of an alkaloid with impurities dissolved by the ether. There has been no subsequent analysis.

Lobelia cardinalis is not a commercial drug and is not used in medicine.

Drugs and Medicines of North America, 1884-1887, was written by John Uri Lloyd and Curtis G. Lloyd.