Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A plant of all but extreme southwestern North Dakota, pale-spike lobelia has flowered as early as late June, but normally makes its appearance between now and mid-July. The species occurs from Alberta and Quebec south through most of our eastern and Midwestern states, and west to eastern Texas.
Pale-spike lobelia is an unbranched plant about one to two feet tall. Ten to twenty bluish-white flowers are scattered along the upper half of the thin, nearly leafless stem. At the base of the stem is a cluster or rosette of club-shaped leaves about two inches long. Roots are fibrous and perennial. Fruits are tiny, round capsules filled with chestnut-brown seeds.
Look for this plant in moist or low prairie that is not heavily grazed or regularly mowed for hay. All the lobelias contain a poisonous substance that was formerly used in various medicinal preparations and as an agent to discourage the use of tobacco.
The plant is a member of the bellflower family (Campanulaceae), which derives its name from the Latin campana for "bell," in reference to the shape of the flowers. The genus Lobelia was dedicated to the early Flemish herbalist and physician to James I of England Matthias de l'Obel (1583-1616). Spicata means "bearing a spike" in botanical Latin. Pale-spike lobelia was first described for science in 1791 by the renowned French naturalist Jean Baptiste de Lamarck.