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Californian Lobelia

Downingia elegans

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Campanulaceae (Bellflower)
Life Cycle:
Annual or Perennial
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Gardens, wasteland.

Blue, 5 petals
Many bright blue tubular flowers. Flowers have 2 long, narrow, pointed lobes and a 3-lobed lower lip. The lower lip lobes are also pointed. The lower lip is purple with a white blotch in the centre.
The fruit capsule is up to 5 to 8mm long. It produces numerous dust-like seeds.
Oval to oblong leaves with slightly serrated edges. Leaves each measure anything up to 1cm long. Annual.
Other Names:
Elegant Calicoflower, Elegant Downingia.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Downingia elegans, also known as Elegant Downingia, is an annual herb that is native to California, USA. It is known for its small, blue, white or pink, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom in the spring and summer. The plant has basal leaves that are linear or lanceolate, and typically grows up to 4-6 inches in height. It prefers well-drained soils and full sun to partial shade and it is often found in vernal pools, meadows, and other seasonally wet habitats. It is not a common ornamental plant, but it is used by some botanical gardens and wildflower enthusiasts. It is considered a rare and endangered species in some areas, and it is protected by law.


California is home to many unique and beautiful plant species, and one of the most eye-catching is the Californian Lobelia, also known as Downingia elegans. This delicate and intricate plant is native to the coastal regions of California and can be found in a range of habitats, from rocky cliffs to sandy beaches.

The Californian Lobelia is a member of the Campanulaceae family, which includes other bell-shaped flowers such as bluebells and harebells. Its distinctive blue-violet flowers are small, measuring only around 1cm in diameter, but they are arranged in large clusters on tall, slender stems that can reach up to 60cm in height. Each flower has five petals that are fused at the base to form a tube, and a white or yellow center.

The leaves of the Californian Lobelia are thin and delicate, and are typically arranged in a basal rosette at the bottom of the stem. They are often slightly hairy and can vary in shape from narrow and lanceolate to oval or even heart-shaped.

One of the most striking features of the Californian Lobelia is its pollination strategy. Unlike many other plants that rely on bees or butterflies to transfer pollen between flowers, the Californian Lobelia is primarily pollinated by hummingbirds. The long, tubular shape of its flowers is perfectly adapted for hummingbirds to insert their beaks and sip nectar while inadvertently transferring pollen from one flower to the next.

Unfortunately, the Californian Lobelia is under threat from habitat loss and degradation, particularly in areas where its coastal grassland and dune habitats are being converted for human use or impacted by invasive species. As a result, it is considered a species of concern by the California Native Plant Society and has been listed as endangered by the state of California.

Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore the Californian Lobelia and its habitat. These include habitat restoration projects, seed collection and storage, and public education and outreach programs to raise awareness about the importance of protecting this unique and fragile species.

Despite its small size, the Californian Lobelia plays an important ecological role in its native habitat. The plant's delicate blue-violet flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds and other pollinators, while its leaves and stems provide shelter and food for a variety of insects and small animals. The plant is also believed to have medicinal properties and has been used in traditional Native American medicine to treat a range of ailments, including headaches, fever, and respiratory problems.

In addition to its ecological and cultural importance, the Californian Lobelia is also a popular ornamental plant in gardens and landscaping. Its delicate flowers and attractive foliage make it a favorite among gardeners, and it can be grown successfully in a range of soil types and light conditions.

If you are interested in growing Californian Lobelia in your own garden, it is important to ensure that you obtain your plants or seeds from a reputable source and that you follow proper planting and care instructions. It is also important to be aware of the plant's conservation status and to avoid purchasing or collecting plants from the wild, as this can contribute to habitat loss and endanger the species further.

One interesting aspect of the Californian Lobelia is its adaptations to its coastal habitat. The plant is able to tolerate salty and sandy soils, as well as periodic flooding from tidal surges. Its long, slender stems and narrow leaves help it to resist damage from wind and waves, while its deep root system allows it to draw water and nutrients from deeper soil layers. These adaptations make the Californian Lobelia well-suited to its coastal habitat, where other plant species may struggle to survive.

Another interesting aspect of the Californian Lobelia is its taxonomy and classification. The plant was first described by the Scottish botanist William Jackson Hooker in 1833, and was originally placed in the genus Lobelia. However, subsequent research revealed that the Californian Lobelia was sufficiently distinct from other Lobelia species to warrant its own genus, and in 1862 it was reclassified as Downingia elegans. The genus name "Downingia" honors the American botanist Andrew Jackson Downing, while the species name "elegans" reflects the plant's elegant and graceful appearance.

The conservation of the Californian Lobelia is an ongoing challenge due to the various threats it faces. One of the biggest threats to the plant is habitat loss and degradation, which occurs when coastal grasslands and dunes are converted for human use, such as for agriculture or urban development. This leads to the destruction of the plant's natural habitat, making it difficult for the plant to survive and reproduce.

Another threat to the Californian Lobelia is invasive species. Non-native plants and animals can outcompete native species for resources, disrupting natural ecosystems and reducing biodiversity. Invasive plants can also alter soil chemistry and nutrient cycling, making it difficult for native plants to survive. The Californian Lobelia is particularly vulnerable to invasive grasses, which can crowd out the plant and prevent it from growing and reproducing.

Climate change is also a concern for the Californian Lobelia, as rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns can alter the plant's habitat and growing conditions. For example, increased drought and wildfires can reduce the plant's water supply and destroy its habitat, while increased rainfall can promote the growth of invasive species and alter soil chemistry.

Efforts to conserve the Californian Lobelia and its habitat are ongoing, and include a variety of strategies such as habitat restoration and management, invasive species control, and public education and outreach. In addition, there are several organizations working to protect the plant and other native species in California, such as the California Native Plant Society and the California Coastal Commission.

In conclusion, the conservation of the Californian Lobelia is a complex and ongoing challenge that requires the cooperation and efforts of scientists, conservationists, and the public. By working together to protect and restore the plant's habitat, control invasive species, and raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity, we can help ensure that this unique and beautiful species continues to thrive in California's coastal regions for generations to come.