Lobelia inflata Swartz

Remark The words or terms in red (actually dark orange) in the text are defined in a glossary.

jul_18_02.gthmb can't be loaded. Lobelia inflata is a native species to North America. Its is a summer annual or biennial herbaceous plant that grows, from fibrous roots between 15 cm and one meter in height. The species chromosome number (2n) is 14. It belongs to the Lobelioideae subfamily of the Campanulaceae family although some botanists place the Lobelia genus is a separate family, the Lobeliaceae.


Lobelia inflata is first named after the Belgian botanist Matthias de Lobel, (or L'Obel or Loábel) (1538-1616). He was a Flemish botanist and physician that ranks among the great botanists who preceded Linnaeus. He studied medicine in Leuven (Belgium) and Montpellier (France). He became physician to William the Silent, Prince of Orange, before moving to England and becoming James I's physician and botanist. In 1570 he published a work describing more than 1200 plants. He classified plants according to leaf structure, and he apparently tried to incorporate into his classification the concepts of genus and family.

In Latin, inflatus is the past participle of the verb inflare that means to inflate, and, as adjective, it means inflated. The epithet refers to the seed pod that develops in swelling into a ball. These inflated seedpods are the best identifying mark of Lobelia inflata.

Common names

Some of the vernacular names of Lobelia inflata are Indian-tobacco, Wild Tobacco, Pukeweed, Asthma Weed, Gagroot, Emetic Herb, Vomitwort, Bladderpod and Eyebright. Its French vernacular names are Tabac indien and Lobélie enflée.


Lobelia inflata is easy to identify by its small, widely spaced nearly white to blue-purple flowers. and by their two upward pointing lobes and three downward pointing lobes. The best identifying mark is the inflated seedpods that gave the species its epithet. Its calyxes become conspicuously inflated from the developing seed capsules; the calyxes of other Lobelias species don't inflate after the corollas of their flowers have withered away.

Lobelia inflata resemble Lobelia spicata but the latter has slightly larger flowers, up to 1/2 inch long vs. 1/4 inch for Lobelia inflata. Furthermore, Lobelia inflata has much more elongate spiciform racemes than Lobelia spicata. Lobelia kalmii that occurs in various wetlands and in uncommon in Québec has a bit similar flowers but has narrow leaves and lacks spreading hairs on its stems.

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Lobelia inflata if found in open deciduous woodlands, in savannas, in thickets, along woodland paths, in powerline clearances in wooded areas, in partially shaded seeps, and in abandoned fields. This species prefers areas with a history of disturbance, particularly when this removes some of the overhead canopy in wooded areas. It grows in sunny areas or in partial sun, often in poor soil. It is somewhat weedy.


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Native to North America, Lobelia inflata is found in southeastern Canada from Nova Scotia to southeast Ontario, and in British Columbia. It is also found in the eastern half of the United States, but for Florida. The map shows the Canadian provinces and USA states where the plant can be found.


Lobelia inflata is considered the most potent of the Lobelia species, containing generally a higher concentration of lobeline.

Lobeline is a natural alkaloid found not only in Lobelia inflata but also in Lobelia tupa (Devil's Tobacco), Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower), Lobelia siphilitica (Great Lobelia), and Hippobroma longiflora. In its pure form it is a white amorphous powder which is freely soluble in water. Lobeline has been used as a smoking cessation aid, and may have application in the treatment of other drug addictions such as addiction to amphetamines or cocaine.

This plant has been used as a recreational drug being smoked for a supposed euphoric effect. In the past, aboriginal people smoked the dried leaves of Lobelia inflata hence the common name of Indian Tobacco.

Aboriginal people would also use the plant for medicinal purposes. The Cherokees used a poultice of root for body aches and rubbed the leaves on aches and stiff neck. The used the plant for bites and stings, as a strong emetic, and the roots and leaves on boils and sores. They made a tincture of the plant and used it in small dose to prevent colics. They would also smoke the plant to break tobacco habit. They also used the plant to cure asthma, croup, phthisic, sore throat. They would also used the plant as an insecticide to smoke out gnats.

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The Crows used the plant in religious ceremonies. The Iroquois used it in cold infusion of whole plant as a cathartic; they made an infusion of roots or leaves and used it as a wash or poultice on abscesses or sores and took it cure tobacco or whiskey habit. A cold infusion of whole plant taken as an emetic, as a love or anti-love medicine, and as a divining agent. They used a wash of smashed roots for venereal disease sores and a decoction of the plant to counteract sickness produced by witchcraft.

Lobelia inflata is still used today. The most potent part of the plant is the seed as it contains the most lobeline, the main ingredient which gives the plant its pyschoactive property. It is sold widely in online herbal shops, and is prized among ethneogen users. Its taste is reminiscent of real tobacco, acrid and burning, and it promotes the heavier flow of saliva. A common misconception is that when smoked it yields a euphoric high like feeling, when it actually produces a more relaxant like effect. It can be used fresh, or dry. Lobelia inflata is also used by herbalists for the treatment of asthma, hence one of its vernacular name of Asthma weed. Some make ointments of the plant to use externally. It is also said that plant material is burned as a natural bug repellent to keep away insects such as mosquitoes.


The photos of the gallery were taken either with one of the following: Minolta DiMAGE 7, Canon PowerShot A530, Canon Xt Rebel, usually with the EF-S60mm f/2.8 Macro USM objective, Fujifilm A 610 and EPSON Perfection 1650 (scanner).

The title in the window shows the date when the picture was taken, i.e. jan_30_06... would mean that the photo was taken on the 30th of January, the 06 is for the 6th picture taken that day. The month, day and picture number might be followed by a letter which I use to identify the system used to take the picture.

Click on the thumbnails to get larger view. The original photos are usually in TIFF format, the photos shown are generally in JPEG format, often of dimensions one half (surface one quarter) for loading time reduction.


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Fruits, seeds

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