Autumn Elegance

On September 27, I  noticed tiny purple buds developing on an unfamiliar plant at the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve in East Texas. By November 1, it was hard to turn around without seeing what those buds had become: stands of graceful and not at all rare Downy Lobelia (Lobelia puberula) blooming across the Big Thicket.

A perennial in the bellflower family, Downy Lobelia is native in several eastern and south-central states as well as in Texas. Often found in the company of other autumn flowers, especially mistflowers, goldenrod, and the asters seen here in the background, its color can be as rich and deep as that of the red Cardinal Flower, another native Lobelia.

Characteristically, the flower produces blooms on only one side of its stem. Seen in profile, the effect is unusually charming: as appealing to the human eye as its nectar is to the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds that serve as its pollinators.


Comments always are welcome.

44 thoughts on “Autumn Elegance

    1. It makes sense that you’d be more familiar with the varieties favored for gardens; I suspect places like the campus would have them around, as well as Southern Exposure and locations like that. Some of the cultivars have many more flowers, and are much taller — they’re all colorful and beautiful.

    1. I’ve been surprised by the range of color this species shows. While most articles describe it as blue, those that I’ve found have ranged from lavender to this deep purple. I’m sure that age affects the color, and that they become lighter as they age. The amount of light they get may make a difference, too. The ones I photographed in the woods tended toward lavender, while the ones that were growing in full sunlight, like this one, knocked me out with their color.

    1. Here’s a secret; I didn’t know about Cardinal flower, either. I’ve seen photos of it posted, but somehow the scientific name never stuck. Now, I guess it will. It seems that all of the Lobelias have this nice, rich color. I suppose that’s why they’re so popular as garden plants.

  1. I find myself drawn to this one’s gorgeous purple color — it looks so regal! — but the Virgo in me rails at a plant that’s so non-symmetrical! Blooms on only one side? Not a fan, sorry. But thanks for introducing it to me, Linda.

    1. Well, perspective is everything, Debbie. I took this photo from the side, to emphasize that aspect of the plant. But look at this photo, taken from the front. It’s a little different. Just like every story, every plants has two (or more!) sides!

  2. Beautiful post Linda. I can’t believe it is three years ago since we were discussing hooded vulchers. I have since revisited my friends in the grounds of Senegambia Hotel, The Gambia, West Africa.
    Hope all is well with you. All ok here so far :-)

    1. My goodness, time does fly. I’m so glad you were able to return to The Gambia, and I’m glad you stopped by today. As it happens, I took a photo of a single black vulture just this afternoon. It was at the top of a very tall tree, and it appeared to be napping: not standing on the limb, but sitting down. It seemed ready to keep sitting for a good while; maybe it had a good meal, and was ready for a Sunday afternoon nap.

      1. You’re welcome Linda. I find Sunday is the day I am now managing to catch up with the reader and was delighted to see your post.
        Yes, I was so glad to return also Linda as I have many friends there. My four month visit was cut short by three weeks on 16gh March when I returned to England due to Covid 19 so I didn’t have time for my usual, special goodbyes but I will return. Some friends are still in touch on wats app.
        Yes, it sounds like the vulcher was napping, a new afternoon routine for me during this time.
        Take care.

    1. I’d only seen this downy lobelia once, at a local nature center. I never did get it identified then, but I kept the photo, and when I saw these, I remembered it. Do you have cardinal flowers in your garden? I didn’t realize that it’s a Lobelia, too. Apparently there are some species native to South America that reach six feet tall!

    1. We do have wonderful wildflowers/native plants. I’ve read that there are 5,000 species in our state; clearly, I’m not going to finish making my way through the list before I start pushing up daisies myself!

  3. We have to travel just a bit north in Florida to find Downy Lobelia. Fortunately, we have several members of the species locally to keep us enthralled.

    Your composition showing the lovely blooms from the side has reminded me to pay more attention to unique aspects of plants in attempting to produce a pleasing image.

    One more tropical storm on the way! Hopefully, neither of us will experience any hardship from this late-season interloper.

    1. I suppose the good news with Eta is that it isn’t going to Louisiana. I don’t wish these storms on anyone, but honestly? Louisianans have done their part this year; they don’t need another.

      I took a look at the distribution maps, and see what you mean about needing to go north. We do share L. cardinalis, which is a real beauty, too. What impressed me the most about this species was the number and variety of bees and butterflies that were visiting. I’ve read that hummingbirds enjoy the plant, but they seem to be gone for the year.

      Most of the plants were a little ragged, but when I found this fresh specimen, I couldn’t help but give it the sideways treatment. The satin-like texture and the color were more obvious from this perspective, and both appealed to me.

    1. Size is an obvious difference between this one and those you grow. I read that the cultivars are picky about soil moisture, too. These seem indifferent, or at least accepting of a wide range of conditions. It seems they can be happy in the humus-y conditions of the woods, or the open, full-sunlight, sandy soil of pine flatwoods. It has been fun to find some of the natives that have given rise to the various hybrids. It’s no wonder gardeners spend so much of the winter perusing seed catalogues!

    1. They certainly have the same shiny surface as a good eggplant, and those buds at the top even have the shape. Many decades ago, I was a bridesmaid in a wedding where our dresses were this shade of purple — and satin. Who knows? We might have resembled eggplants.

    1. While red, yellow, and orange are typically considered the ‘autumn colors,’ gold and purple are common here. I’ve long been familiar with purple beautyberries and various purple asters, but this was a new one for me, and I think it’s just lovely.

  4. That is a lovely kin to the Cardinal Flower, Linda. Interesting too that all the flowers populate one side of the stem. I wonder if the stem twists a bit as the sun moves across the sky.

  5. Such a majestic color. Adaptations by nature are so intriguing – flowers on one side of the stem – easy access for hungry visitors – now that’s considerate as well as self serving?
    The flower shape I’m familiar with, but what a beautiful show stopper color.

    1. There were plenty of hungry visitors around these when I was looking for nice ones to photograph: butterflies and bees, mostly, including swallowtails. If they taste as good as they look, there should be some very happy insects hovering around.

      I’ve seen photos of garden lobelias, but I do love this native. I found exactly one at the Dudney Nature Center in 2017, and thought it was a rarity. For here, perhaps, but certainly not in the piney woods.

    1. It certainly buoyed my spirits. Every time I visit east Texas, something new is in bloom. I suspect we’re coming to the end of newly-blooming plants for the year, but I had that same suspicion the day I found these. Whoops! Another of nature’s surprises.

    1. It can be a bit of a challenge to untangle a flower like this from its background, as you well know. It’s worth the effort, though — the luscious color and wonderful symmetry of this plant is worth admiring.

  6. That’s a really wonderful color. I’ve seen a red lobelia, cardinal flower, in the Adirondacks, but don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind, I’d have remembered one with all the flowers on one side, that’s neat.

    1. The way I took the photo did emphasize that one-sidedness. Seen from the front, it’s not quite as prominent as a feature, but it is lovely. Your cardinal flower is supposed to be around here, but I’ve only seen them one time, in the hill country. It certainly would be hard to miss them if they were blooming; that red is glorious!

  7. I did a little searching and the several American lobelia species I looked at all had violet-colored flowers, making the famous cardinal flower an exception. Your mention of downy lobelia’s range also sent me searching and I was surprised to find it listed for Travis County. Bill Carr, however, says it’s rare here. The same for Berlandier’s lobelia.

    1. I wasn’t familiar with Berlandier’s lobelia, but I see that it’s found south of Rockport/Corpus, and in an area of the state I’ve yet to visit. I was surprised to see how tall it can be, and the shape of the flower lobes is different, too. It’s poisonous. A TAMU site says:

      “Depending on the dose, the nicotine alkaloids are central nervous system stimulants or depressants and result in the following signs: excitability (early and not usually observed in brush pastures), depression, down animals that refuse food and water. Animals become so severely depressed that they lie down and die from water deprivation and exposure.”

      So — don’t eat the lobelia!

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