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Cardinal flower is found in wet areas, such as springs, swamps, and along springs.

Cardinal flower is found in wet areas, such as springs, swamps, and along springs. USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 8 October 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal flower

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Lobelia cardinalis is a clump forming perennial wildflower with toothed lance shaped leaves. In late summer stems are topped by spiky racemes of vibrant scarlet florets. The blooms are irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies. Plants prosper in filtered shade with moist soils or in wetter sunny sites.

HABITAT & HARDINESS: Lobelia cardinalis occurs in New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec. The range extends through most of the United States.

Plants are indigenous to wet prairies, openings in bottomland forests, wet meadows, sandy or gravelly seeps, edges of ponds, creeks or ditches and borders of marshes, sloughs or swamps. This species can occur in sandy or non-sandy soils

Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 3-9.

PLANT DESCRIPTION: Lobelia cardinalis is a tap rooted clumping perennial that forms robust winter rosettes. In spring upright unbranched stems rise from a crown that occurs at ground level.

The stems are clothed in oblong to lance shaped toothed leaves. Blades are up to 6” long and about 1.5” wide. They are glabrous above and pubescent beneath.

In late summer foliage is topped by spires of firey red florets. The florets are tubular with a two lobed upper lip and a prominent three lobed lower lip.

The floral display lasts for 4-6 weeks ending in early autumn. Flowers are pollinated by ruby throated hummingbirds and are also visited by swallowtail and sulfur butterflies.

After flowering, small rounded capsules full of tiny seed form on the stalk.

Plants are 2-4’ tall with a 1-2’ spread.

CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Lobelia cardinalis prospers in shaded to partly sunny exposures with moist humus rich soil. Plants tolerate sunny sites if sufficient moisture is present.

The species adapts to sandy loam and gravelly or clay soil but will not tolerate drought. In garden situations the soil should be amended with organic matter to retain moisture.

After seed are produced, the flowering stem and its roots die. New offsets soon form and generate their own roots. The small offsets are vulnerable in fall and winter and care should be taken not to bury them under thick mulch layers.

This species is considered to be a short lived perennial but in an appropriate setting it will self-sow and replenish the population.

Foliage is generally unpalatable to deer and other herbivores but is chewed by snails and slugs.

LANDSCAPE USES: This species is often used as an Accent, Grouping or Mass planting in for a Rain Garden, Wildlife Garden or Perennial Border. Lobelia cardinalis has Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, moist Meadows, margins of Water Gardens, and soggy Roadsides.

COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Lobelia cardinalis with Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet', Anemone canadensis, Carex comosa, Chelone glabra, Eupatorium coelestinum or Osmunda cinnamomea.

Lobelia cardinalis ‘New Moon Maroon’ could be planted to add unique purplish foliage to the garden. Lobelia siphilitica could also be substituted due to comparable cultural needs and similar blue flowers.

TRIVIA: Lobelia cardinalis won the Royal Horticulture Society 1993 Award of Garden Merit.

Lobelia cardinalis was introduced to Europe in the early 1600’s. The common name “cardinal flower” was quickly adopted due to the similarity of the flower color and the garments of Roman Catholic Cardinals.

This species is a member of the Bellflower Family.


Height:

2-5 ft

Spread:

1-2 ft

Spacing:

18-24 in

USDA Hardiness Zone:

3-9

Bloom Color:

Red

Lobelia cardinalis Characteristics

Exposure

  • Full Sun to Full Shade

Critter Resistance

  • Deer Resistant

Attracts Wildlife

  • Butterflies
  • Hummingbirds

Soil Moisture Preference

  • Wet to Moist

Attributes

  • Naturalizing
  • East-Coast Native
  • Cut Flower
  • Bog
  • Rain Garden

Flowering Months

  • August
  • September

Foliage Color

  • Green

Season of Interest (Foliage)

  • Spring
  • Summer

Growth Rate

  • Fast

Juglans nigra Tolerance (Black Walnut)

  • Yes

Interesting Notes:

For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LOCA2


Plants that work well with Lobelia cardinalis ''

Sweet flag Sweet flag (Acorus americanus)
Bluestar Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontani 'Grande')
Swamp milkweed Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Swamp milkweed Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet')
Bristly sedge Bristly sedge (Carex comosa)
Fringed sedge Fringed sedge (Carex crinita)
Emory's sedge Emory's sedge (Carex emoryii)
Bristly cattail sedge Bristly cattail sedge (Carex frankii)
Porcupine sedge Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina)
Lurid sedge Lurid sedge (Carex lurida)
Trumpet honeysuckle Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Trumpet honeysuckle Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens 'Alabama Crimson')
Trumpet honeysuckle Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens 'John Clayton')
Mistflower Mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum)
Boneset Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Swamp mallow Swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
Path rush Path rush (Juncus tenuis)
Soft rush Soft rush (Juncus effusus)
Scouring Rush Scouring Rush (Equisetum hyemale)
Dwarf blue star Dwarf blue star (Amsonia tabernemontana 'Blue Ice')
Disco Belle Red Hardy Hibiscus Disco Belle Red Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos 'Disco Belle Red')
Disco Belle Pink Hardy Hibiscus Disco Belle Pink Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos 'Disco Belle Pink')

Substitutions for Lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal flower Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis 'New Moon Maroon')
Great Blue Lobelia Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)