Naturalist Newsletter of October 29, 2007
issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside
Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W
Breedlove's "Flora of Chiapas" lists 15 species of Lobelia for the state. In eastern North America the best-known Lobelias are the red-flowered Cardinal-flower and the much smaller, blue-blossomed Indian Tobacco. Most of our Chiapan Lobelias seem to be of the small, blue-flowered kind, but one common, red-flowered species is unlike any Lobelia I've ever seen, as shown at the right.
That's LOBELIA LAXIFLORA, a common wildflower in much of Mexico and growing at a woods' edge here.
With those very long, gracefully arching pedicels and the similarly gracefully curving blossoms, the flowers remind me of the Yucatan's pink flamingos. In fact, I wasn't sure I even had a Lobelia until I dissected a blossom and saw the matchstick-like structure shown below.
In that picture the tilted, yellowish-red thing is the split corolla while the matchstick-like structure is the flower's grown-together stamens. The cream-colored bottom part consists of the stamens' filaments while the brown, ridged "head" is formed by the united, pollen-producing anthers forming a tube or ring around the female style. When botanists see stamens grown together in this exact manner they automatically think "Lobelia!"
Since we know that the whole point of flowers is for the species to have a method for mixing the genes of two plants with different genetic inheritances so that evolution can proceed, you might wonder why Lobelias would place their male stamens in such very close proximity to the female parts. What happens is that the male and female parts mature at different times. Even if a flower's pollen lands on its own female stigma, the stigma will be to young to be receptive.
My Plantas Medicinales de Mexico, which calls the species by the name of Chilpanxochitl, regards its root bark as toxic and narcotic, making an "energetic" emetic, and tending to paralyze the respiratory system.