Cardinal flower is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial native to North America where it grows in moist to wet areas such as stream and river banks, pond edges, marshes and swamps. It is a member of the bellflower family, Campanulaceae, that also includes balloon flower (Platycodon), and ladybell (Adenophora). The dark green lance-shaped leaves are rough textured, three to six inches long and borne on unbranched hairy stems. Vivid red tubular flowers are produced in terminal racemes twelve to eighteen inches long and are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Each flower has two lips, the upper with two lobes, the lower with three lobes. Plants bloom in late summer into fall for four to six weeks. They are relatively short-lived but selfseed. Cardinal flower is an excellent choice for butterfly, wildlife, and rain gardens and naturalize well without becoming aggressive or invasive. Cultivars are available that varying primarily in color. The genus name, Lobelia, honors the Flemish botanist Matthias de Lobel (1538–1616).The specific epithet, cardinalis, is the Latin word meaning serving as a hinge and was used by the Roman Catholic church to refer to the clergy highest in rank next to the pope. These men, cardinals, wore bright red robes, similar to the flower color of this plant.
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Bloom: Tubular, two-lipped vivid red flowers are produced in racemes up to 12-18 inches long in late summer into fall; white and pink flowers possible
Size: 2-4′ H x 1-2′ W
Light: Full sun to partial shade; needs some shade in hot climates
Soil: Rich, humusy, moist to wet; can not dry out
Care: Pinch to encourage bushiness; deadhead to encourage rebloom
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Pests and Diseases: None of significance but susceptible to leaft spots, rust, smut; snails and slugs
Propagation: See (sow in fall or give three months stratification andsow in spring), cuttings in mid-summer, division or rosettes in fall
Companion Plants: Bonset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
”Alba’ (white flowers)
‘Heather Pink’ (soft pink flowers)
‘Angel Song’ (salmon and cream flowers)
‘Rosea’ (pink flowers).