Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis

Campanulaceae – Bellflower Family


Cardinal Flower is a common perennial herb native to North America.  It is found in all of the lower 48 states of the USA except the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington.1  It grows 3’-6’ tall, and prefers moist areas including swamps, ditches, and the banks of streams, ponds, lakes, and wetlands.  The plant produces its beautiful red tubular flowers from May-October.2

Cardinal flower is a beautiful addition to moist gardens. It grows in sun and shade, and a wide variety of soil conditions from rich humus to loams to sandy soils, as long as the soil remains moist. Seeds are produced in blue fruits.  Seeds require a 3-month cold period to germinate.  They are also available commercially. The plant also grows clonally.  Clonal growth can be stimulated by anchoring a bent stem to the ground.  New shoots and roots will be produced from the buried stem.2

The flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies; hummingbirds are the primary pollinators. In fact, Cardinal Flower is consider to be one of the “top-10” plants for attracting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.3  The blue fruits are dispersed by birds.  Although some parts of the plant are reportedly used for medicinal purposes in very small quantities, all parts of the plant contain poisonous alkaloids that, if eaten in large quantities, can cause nausea, diarrhea, convulsions, and coma.2

References and Useful Websites:

1 Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture

2 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

3 “Top-Ten” Native Hummingbird Plants

This page was prepared by Wade Worthen, for the Lake Restoration Project

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