Plant of the Moment: Lobelia tupa

The photo of my Lobelia tupa on this month’s GBBD post seems to have caused quite a bit of interest amongst readers; so I thought I would do a post about it.

This is the first year the plants have flowered and I am completely entranced by them.  I grew them from seed last year and they were pretty easy to germinate and grow on.  Once the seedlings were of a reasonable size I planted them out in the border.  That was this early summer last year, they didn’t do much last year but they have come through the very cold prolonged winter we had which is amazing considering that in the RHS A-Z of Plants they are listed as being half-hardy.  As you can see from the photo below the plants grew quite tall, the tallest is about 3.5ft.  The clump below is made up of 5-6 plants and I am pretty certain that I will have to split them up next year as the plants bulk up particularly as the reference books describe them as clump forming.The Lobelia tupa has many attributes.  Personally I think the leaves are excellent; they are downy and a soft grey green colour, lance-shaped and a generous size, in some case up to 30cm long.

What helps to make the plant zing in the border even before the flowers appear are the stems.  The red-purple stems provide a wonderful contrast to the leaves giving an almost designer look.  The piece de resistance though are the flowers with one at the top of each stem.  The flowers are racemes up to 45cm long made up for tubular red-orange flowers which can be up to 6cm long.  They really are extraordinary looking but for me it is the dying flower that is really wonderful.

I note from the A-Z that the plant originates in Chile and to me this plant definitely looks exotic enough to have come from South America.

Author: Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited

17 thoughts on “Plant of the Moment: Lobelia tupa”

  1. I have seen this plant many times but like you thought it was half-hardy. I also love growing plants from seed so I think this will be on my seed order for next year. I have grown and lost lobelia Queen Victoria, I am tempted to buy another plant next year – perhaps I will plant them together. Good luck with your RHS course, I really hope you have a good group of people and enjoy it.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  2. What an extraordinary plant. Does it require a lot of water? I know many Lobelia do. Like you I am always interested in how a flowers ‘dies’. It certainly seems a plant with many strong points of interest. Christina

  3. I enjoyed seeing a flower new to me. Will put it on my wish list for next year. What exactly is the RHS course you are talking about taking? Is that an English thing? Anything like a master gardener class we have in the US?

  4. Sylvia – if I collected some seeds would you like them?
    Christina – my soil has a lot of clay in it so its doesnt completely dry out but I havent given it extra water and we have had quite a few dry months recently so probably the answer is no it doesnt need extra water
    Valerie – from what I have read on blogs of the master gardener course in the US I think my RHS course is along the same lines

  5. dear patient gardener. I have been skirting round this plant – the other day I had a shall I shant I moment over whether to buy it – hmmmmmm I now think I will. The image close up is fab.

  6. I saw these while in Britain recently and thought I’d remembered they were not really do-able here – wish they were – the combination of the leaves, plus the interesting flowers really make them an object of desire. Good to hear that they are easy from seed….starting to think that maybe I could do them in pots and garage them over the winter?

  7. It’s neat to see some of the other plants in the lobelia family. I’m growing some of the native Hawaiian lobeliads myself in my garden; for some reason, seeing the familiar looking flower on this blog was comforting. Maybe its like seeing a long lost friend. Anyway, I hope your plants are very fecund! Happy gardening!

  8. I grow this plant here in western Oregon in the U.S. It is on clay soil, southern exposure against the wall of the house. It reaches 2 meters in height, about 1.5 meters wide with multiple stems. Stems are green and about 3 cm in diameter at the base. Hummingbirds flock to it.

  9. I have this plant in my small garden. The original grown from seed a few years ago became to big and all my attempts at splitting ended in failure. I have since grown it from seed and have a thriving plant in a different part of garden It seems to like a sunny spot and I don’t water it often. Whilst visiting a garden in Norfolk I admired a large group of these in a more orange shade. (mine had 2 different shades) I collected seeds from this which I planted recently – very tiny and I sowed more than I realised and now have hundreds of seedling which are growing well. I have pricked lots of them out and they are growing fast. Now I would like advice on growing them on .
    the established plants are also coming up well and do not appear to have suffered from the cold winter or recent heavy rains. I live east coast England and now have a hosepipe ban and continuous rain!!

    1. Hi Wendy

      I grew my Lobelia tupa from seed and grew them as any other hardy perennial. I potted them on until they were a good size which took about a year and then planted them out the following spring. Mine are in part shade in a part of the garden which doesnt dry out. I have noticed that they take a while to reappear each spring.


    1. Hi JC
      Mine have come up again. We had lots of rain for months but I think the fact that I’m on the side of a hill helps

    2. My plant is growing well again – I’ve just checked. We are lucky not to have been very affected by the wet weather Last year blooms grew to about 8 feet and were spectacular

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