Monday, September 28, 2015

Downy Lobelia - Lobelia puberula

Downy lobelia (Lobelia puberula) is a robust perennial forb found throughout the northern one-third of Florida in moist to mesic habitats such as open woodlands, roadsides, and meadows. It also occurs in much of the Southeast and southern Midwest, from Texas and Missouri, east to New Jersey southward.
Downy lobelia dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in early spring. It quickly produces a set of basal leaves that are up to 5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. The leaves are elliptical, clasp the stem (lack a petiole), and are finely toothed along the margin.  They also alternate up the stem.
Flowering occurs in late summer and well into fall. The mature flower stalk is 3-5 feet tall and the deep lavender flowers are produced singly on the upper 2-3 feet.  Each bloom is nearly 1 inch long with a distinct white blotch in the throat.  Sharply pointed sepals subtend each flower and a nearly sagittate wavy leaf occurs opposite.
Although some lobelias have found favor in the landscape trade, downy lobelia has not in Florida. Though quite showy and adaptable to non-wetland conditions, it has not been offered by nurseries affiliated with FANN, the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. It is sold commercially by native nurseries to Florida's north, however.  We have not experimented with downy lobelia at Hawthorn Hill and I do not know how adaptable out-of-state stock is to our growing conditions. If you attempt it, give it mesic to moist conditions. In mesic conditions, it is likely to do best in partial to half sun. If you are growing it, let us know what you've discovered. I hope this beautiful wildflower is someday made more available in Florida than it is at present.

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