LOBELIA, the typical genus of the tribe Lobelieae, of the order Campanulaceae, named after Matthias de Lobe], a native of Lille, botanist and physician to James I. It numbers about two hundred species, natives of nearly all the temperate and warmer regions of the world, excepting central and eastern Europe as well as western Asia. They are annual or perennial herbs or under-shrubs, rarely shrubby; remarkable arborescent forms are the tree-lobelias found at high elevations on the mountains of tropical Africa. Two species are British, L. Dorlmanna (named by Linnaeus after Dortmann, a Dutch druggist), which occurs in gravelly mountain lakes ; and L. wens, which is only found on heaths, etc., in Dorset and Cornwall. The genus is distinguished from Campanula by the irregular corona and completely united anthers, and by the excessive acridity of the milky juice. The species earliest described and figured appears to be L. cardinalis, under the name Trachelium americanum sive cardinalis planta, " the rich crimson cardinal's flower "; Parkinson (Paradisus, 1629, p. 357) says, " it groweth neere the riuer of Canada, where the French plantation in America is seated." It is a native of the eastern United States. This and several other species are in cultivation as ornamental garden plants, e.g. the dwarf blue L. Erinus, from the Cape, which, with its numerous varieties, forms a familiar bedding plant. L. splendens and L. fulgens, growing from i to 2 ft. high, from Mexico, have scarlet flowers; L. Tupa, a Chilean perennial 6 to 8 ft. high, has reddish or scarlet flowers; L. tenuior with blue flowers is a recent acquisition to the greenhouse section, while L. amaena, from North America, as well as L. syphililica and its hybrids, from Virginia, have also blue flowers. The last-named was introduced in 1665. The hybrids raised by crossing cardinalis, fulgens, splendens and syphilitica, constitute a fine group of fairly hardy and showy garden plants. Queen Victoria is a well-known variety, but there are now many others.
The Lobelia is familiar in gardens under two very different forms, that of the dwarf-tufted plants used for summer .bedding, and that of the tall showy perennials. Of the former the best type is L. Erinus, growing from 4 to 6 in. high, with many slender stems, bearing through a long period a profusion of small but bright blue two-lipped flowers. The variety speciosa offers the best strain of the dwarf lobelias; but the varieties are being constantly superseded by new sorts. A good variety will reproduce itself sufficiently true from seed for ordinary flower borders, but to secure exact uniformity it is necessary to propagate from cuttings.
The herbaceous lobelias, of which L. fulgens may be taken as the type, may be called hardy except in so far as they suffer from damp in winter; they throw up a series of short rosette-like suckers round the base of the old flowering stem, and these sometimes, despite all the care taken of them, rot off during winter. The roots should either be taken up in autumn, and planted closely side by side in boxes of dry earth or ashes, these being set for the time they are dormant either in a cold frame or in any airy place in the greenhouse; or they may be left in the ground, in which case a brick or two should be put beside the plants, some coal ashes being first placed round them, and slates to protect the plants being laid over the bricks, one end resting on the earth beyond. About February they should be placed in a warm pit, and after a few days shaken out and the suckers parted, and potted singly into small pots of light rich earth. After being kept in the forcing pit until well established, they should be moved to a more airy greenhouse pLt, and eventually to a cold frame preparatory to planting out. In the more favoured parts of the United Kingdom it is unnecessary to go to this trouble, as the plants are perfectly hardy ; even in the suburbs of London they live 'for several years without protection except in very severe winters. They should have a loamy soil, well enriched with manure; and require copious waterings when they start into free growth. They may be raised from seeds, which, being very fine, require to be sown carefully ; but they do not flower usually till the second year unless they are sown very early in heat.
The species Lobelia inflata, the " Indian tobacco " of North America, is used in medicine, the entire herb, dried and in flower, being employed. The species derives its specific name from its characteristic inflated capsules. It is somewhat irritant to the nostrils, and is possessed of a burning, acrid taste. The chief constituent is a volatile liquid alkaloid (cf. nicotine) named lobeline, which occurs to the extent of about 30%. This is a very pungent body, with a tobacco-like odour. It occurs in combination with lobelic acid and forms solid crystalline salts. The single preparation of this plant in the British Pharmacopeia is the Tinctura Lobeliae Rthereae, composed of five parts of spirits of ether to one of lobelia. The dose is 5 to 15 minims. The ether is employed in order to add to the efficacy of the drug in asthma, but a simple alcoholic tincture would be really preferable.
Lobelia has certain pharmacological resemblances to tobacco. It has no action upon the unbroken skin, but may be absorbed by it under suitable conditions. Taken internally in small doses, e.g. 5 minims of the tincture, it stimulates the peristaltic movements of the coecum and colon. In large doses it is a powerful gastrointestinal irritant, closely resembling tobacco, and causing giddiness, headache, nausea, vomiting, purging and extreme prostration, with clammy sweats and faltering rapid pulse. Its action on the circulation is very decided. The cardiac terminals of the vagus nerves are paralysed, the pulse being thus accelerated by loss of the normal inhibitory influence, and the blood-vessels being relaxed owing to paresis of the vasomotor centre. The blood-pressure thus falls very markedly. The respiratory centre is similarly depressed, death ensuing from this action. Lobelia is thus a typical respiratory poison. In less than toxic doses the motor terminals of the vagi in the bronchi and bronchioles are paralysed, thus causing relaxation of the bronchial muscles. It is doubtful whether lobelia affects the cerebrum directly. It is excreted by the kidneys and the skin, both of which it stimulates in its passage. In general terms the drug may be said to stimulate non-striped muscular fibres in small, and paralyse them in toxic doses.
Five minims of the tincture may be usefully prescribed to be taken night and morning in chronic constipation due to inertia of the lower part of the alimentary canal. In spasmodic (neurotic) asthma, and also in bronchitis accompanied by asthmatic spasm of the bronchioles, the tincture may be given in comparatively large doses (e.g. one drachm) every fifteen minutes until nausea is produced. Thereafter, whether successful or not in relieving the spasm, the administration of the drug must be stopped.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)