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Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)
Species Distribution Map: Click to enlarge
Map Color Key © 2013 BONAP

Lobelia cardinalis

cardinal flower

Clump-forming habit with brilliant red flower spikes set against green and purple-bronze colored foliage. Each individual spike of scarlet flowers open from bottom to top and stays in bloom for several weeks. A favorite of hummingbirds. Makes an excellent cut flower. A real show stopper!

SIZE
Lobelia cardinalis LP50 - 50 per flat Availability
Lobelia cardinalis - 72 per flat Availability
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Height

2-4 Feet

Spread

2 Feet

Spacing

12-18 Inches

Bloom Color

Red

USDA Hardiness Zone 3-8

cardinal flower Interesting Notes

Cardinal flower is a sure bet for gardeners anxious to have hummingbirds visit their gardens. Set against deep green foliage, pure red flowers appear on 2’ long spikes atop 3-4’ tall plants providing a spectacular garden display in the heat of summer. Cardinal flower flourishes in acidic to neutral, well drained soils in filtered shade to sun. Stream banks, water’s edge, meadow margins, and garden soils less prone to drought stress are excellent sites to grow this adorable herbaceous perennial. Lobelia cardinalis grows well with Lobelia siphiliticaAsclepias incarnataGentiana clausaMonarda fistulosaRhexia virginicaSpiranthes odorata 'Chadds Ford', and Zephyranthes atamasca. - Mt. Cuba Center

It is hard to describe the intensity of a Cardinal Flower in bloom. It is as if the flowers catch sunlight inside some sort of crystal matrix and let it bounce around for awhile until it has been stripped of all but the deepest, purest red imaginable. Then and only then is the light released to burn crimson red into our corneas. I will never forget the first time I found one in the wild, just a single plant growing in a low area behind my house. I stood there stunned for about five minutes trying to fathom how such a magical thing had come there. I know now that the seed had probably been lying in the soil, dormant for years before being kicked up into the light by some worm or squirrel (or maybe a curious child's foot?).

Lobelias are not true perennials, because the flowering stem and its associated roots die after setting seed. They are perennial in effect only because new offsets grow from the axils of the lowermost leaves and quickly put down their own abundant white roots. It is especially important, then, that these new offsets be coddled a little in the fall. - William Cullina, Growing and Propagating Wildflowers

Lore: The root was part of a Native American love potion and the powder of the entire plant may have been used as sort of a magic power to dispel storms and was used in ceremonies.

Lobelia cardinalis Growing and Maintenance Tips

Needs constant moisture so mulching would be quite beneficial. Propagate by seed or cuttings. May self seed. Best used in a border or a wild, hummingbird, butterfly or water garden. Also adds color to woodland gardens.

Good Substitutions

cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis 'Black Truffle'
great blue lobelia Lobelia siphilitica

Key Characteristics & Attributes

Full Sun
Full Sun
Part Sun
Part Sun
Moist
Moist
Summer
Summer
Pollinator-friendly
Pollinator-friendly
Deer Resistant
Deer Resistant
Hummingbird-friendly
Hummingbird-friendly
Songbird-friendly
Songbird-friendly
Cut Flower
Cut Flower

Additional Information

Soil Moisture Needs
Wet
Average
Plug Type
Horticultural Plug
Landscape Plug™
Green Infrastructure
Bioretention/Rain Garden
Meadow/Prairie
Woodland
Attributes
Native to North America
Propagation Type
Open pollinated