Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lobelia siphilitica, a tale of dwarves and albas

Lobelia siphilitica "Mistassinica"

Lobelia siphilitica "Mistassinica"

Typical L. siphilitica

Lobelia siphilitica "alba"

Lobelias have lots of good qualities to recommend them for garden use.  They grow easily from seed, the flowers are usually quite pretty, they often come in deep blue (a hard color to find) or bright red, and are toxic, so they tend to be critter proof.  The perennial sorts are not always long lived, however, so it pays to save seed or to divide them every so often as this seems to increase their vigor.  Lobelia siphilitica is a common wildflower in fields and the edges of woods in the northeast.  I remember seeing quite a bit of it near the Cornell campus during my years there.  The typical deep blue form is somewhere under a meter in height when happy and is easy to grow in dampish areas.  It grows in sun or part shade, and will self sow if happy.  The flowers come in late August through early September in most years.   The alba form is scarcer, but has a beauty of its own, and in order to maintain the alba form it is best to plant it away from the blue form so seeds can come true to the white parent. 
An oddity is the little Lobelia siphilitica "Mistassinica".  I got this from a plant sale at Stonecrop Gardens, it was (and still is) carried by Wrightman Alpines.  I believe that it was supposedly found in Michigan somewhere.  It is a true miniature, reaching maybe 6 to 8 inches in height.  It offsets  readily and appears to come true from seed in my experience so far.  It is the kind of plant rock gardeners like, small, easy to care for, and a high flower to foliage ratio when it is in bloom.  Plus it blooms at a time when most rock gardens are not at their best, as most rock garden plants tend to be spring to early summer bloomers (though one can change that with careful planning and a broad definition of what can grow in the rock garden). 

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