Sun/shade: Full sun to part shade
Soil moisture: Wet
Flowering period: July to September
Host plant for 5 caterpillar species
In highly appropriate fashion, the petals of this bird-pollinated plant flare softly from the stem like a layer of scarlet, gently-ruffled feathers. Although bees are the pollinating organisms that are most important to plants overall, the primary pollinators of red lobelia are hummingbirds. Indeed, the plant’s searing red coloration – quite unusual among wildflowers – is visible to birds and butterflies but not to bees. Observing as hummingbirds visit red lobelia reveals the elegant manner in which the flower conforms to the bird’s shape in order to achieve pollen transfer. As the hovering hummingbird inserts its bill into the plant’s long, tubular corolla to obtain nectar, the top of its head brushes against the plant’s anthers and receives a dusting of pollen. If the bird then visits a female-phase red lobelia, its head will brush against the plant’s stigma, transferring some pollen onto it and thereby pollinating the plant. In addition to hummingbirds, swallowtail butterflies show a strong attraction to red lobelia, providing an exquisite sight as they perch upon the plant’s trident-shaped floral lobe while taking a nectar drink. Within its native NE Ohio range, red lobelia is a plant of low, wet habitats such as stream banks, openings in wet woods, and wet meadows.
Photo by Ashley Keesling.