Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cardinal Flower - Lobelia cardinalis

There are few more stunning wildflowers than cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).  This amazing wildflower is native to the northern half of Florida and much of North America, except the far Northwest.  Everywhere it occurs, it is held in high esteem and actively propagated.
In Florida, cardinal flower is most common along stream and river edges - in the shallow backwater areas that stay wet year-round and are often flooded with several inches of water.  It can occur in other moist soil habitats as well, but does not perform as well there.
This is a deciduous perennial.  In warmer parts of its range in Florida, it may retain a rosette of basal leaves through the winter, but most often it dies back below ground.  Leaves emerge in early spring.  They are bright green, triangular with somewhat wavy edges, and almost succulent.  Mature plants eventually produce "pups" off the sides of the rosette - so eventually multiple rosettes with multiple flower stalks are formed.
Flower stalks begin to be apparent in late spring and eventually reach their full height by mid-summer.  Depending on growing conditions and maturity, these stalks may stand 4-5 feet tall.  Large numbers of buds are produced along the stem and flowering begins at the bottom and works its way to the top.  Because of this, plants may be in flower for nearly a month.  The bright carmine red blooms are tubular with wide-spreading petals.  They are one of the very best at attracting the attention of hummingbirds, but are also pollinated by large butterflies and bees.
Cardinal flower is widely propagated and is relatively easy to find from native plant nurseries.  It is relatively long-lived and easy if kept wet.  I have had my best success by keeping it in pots and placing them in shallow water in my pond.  Even then, cardinal flower is attacked by a variety of insects that girdle stems and eat leaves.  Do not allow such pests free reign or you may lose your plants for good - or at least lose a year of flowering. Cardinal flower can grow well in full sun to partial shade.  In sunny locations, it needs plenty of water and in shadier locations it may not bloom as well.


  1. Hi we are Nicolette and Ray and We are living in south Tampa. I was wondering wether you would be interested to hike with us sometimes. We do lots of bike riding nd canoe rides in the different state parks. I love taking pictures of the different plants and animals we see - in fact we just came back from the rainbow river area and I saw that Cardinal plant in flower and stopped in awe! That is how I came across your blog. My husband in Music manager of a private radio station WZPH

  2. Always up for a good hike or kayak trip, but my personal time that is "free" - not tied up with an event etc. that I am participating in, is pretty limited - especially in th spring and fall. I appreciate the offer. Maybe sometime..........

  3. Just wondering what remedies can be utilized to keep the insects at bay? I recently acquired a specimen from a grower in Central Florida and I keep it potted in shallow water as you have recommended, however seems I'm already incurring some leaf damage.

    Thanks for your insight

    1. Kurt et al. First question is always: "Is the "damage" actually harming the plant? Chewing of leaves etc. can harm a plant is severe, but cause virtually no problems if not.. Leaves etc. that are getting chewed shows that your plant is "alive" - it is functioning in the landscape as a living component and providing an ecological function. That said, I've had insects in the past that have killed my cardinal flowers by chewing off the outer stem cambium to the point that the plant could not function. I solved this by putting my cardinal flowers in very shallow water (a few inches at most) instead of in moist ground. Insects that are causing real damage should be spot treated with the most benign insecticide that works - often this means an insecticidal soap instead of something more deadly. Watch the plant closely, determine which insects are causing the problem, determine if they need to be treated based on this, and then treat, if necessary, with something that will work and still protect the greater environment around it. Hope this helps a bit.

  4. Thanks for the info. I'm not sure at this stage if it's insect damage or microbial. However the condition has cleared up
    a bit as the plant has acclimated to its new surroundings. Thanks again


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