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Indian Tobacco Lobelia inflata


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Indian Tobacco
credit: H. Zell/CCSA

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Family: Campanulaceae, Bellflower view all from this family

Description Slightly hairy stems may be simple or branches and have several tiny lavender or blue-violet flowers in terminal, leafy, elongated clusters.
Habit: native annual or biennial herb; upright, finely hairy, angular stem, unbranched or branched at top; taprooted.
Height: 0.5-3 ft (15-90 cm)
Leaf: alternate, pale green to yellow-green, lanceolate to ovate, edges shallowly toothed or wavy, aromatic, to 2.5 in (63 mm) long, to 1 in (25 mm) wide.
Flower: white to lavender to pale blue-violet, 5-parted, stalked, 0.3 in (8 mm) long; 2 smaller upper petals, 3 larger lower petals; in long sparse terminal cluster.
Fruit: capsule, ribbed, spherical, 0.3 in (8 mm) diameter; held in persistent calyx.

Warning The leaves, seeds, and roots of some plants of the Lobelia genus contain poisonous substances and have caused fatalities in humans and animals when ingested. All plants in the genus may contain toxins and should not be ingested. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Flower June to October.

Habitat Fields, open woods, roadsides, disturbed sites.

Range Quebec south to Georgia, west to Louisiana and Oklahoma, north to Nebraska, Minnesota and Ontario; also found in British Columbia.

Discussion This acrid poisonous annual is found in a variety of sites, often in poor soil. The American Indians were said to have smoked and chewed its leaves; hence the common name. Though once used as an emetic, the root should not be eaten, for if taken in quantity it can be fatal.