Wildflower Tales-Cardinal Flower


“The world is made brighter and sunnier by flowers of such a hue … it arrays itself in this scarlet glory. It is a flower of thought and feeling, too; it seems to have its roots deep down in the hearts of those who gaze at it.” 

Nathaniel Hawthorne



With the first snows coming this past weekend, I am dreaming of beautiful wildflowers that graced my garden this past year.  And one of the finest is the gorgeous bright red flaming flowers of Lobelia cardinalis.  I am featuring this plant for another Wildflower Tale as I link in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme.

Hawthorne’s description of this flower is spot on.  A perfect name, “scarlet glory”.  I wait patiently in late summer for this stunning flower to appear.  The bright red blooms of Lobelia cardinalis or Cardinal flower is part of the Bellflower Family (Campanulaceae).  This showy perennial is perfect for any garden.IMG_3303

And there are many related species and hybrids in shades of blue, purple, white and deep reds (see one pictured right).  But the intense color of Cardinal flower can be seen from almost anywhere in my back gardens.  This flower species, Lobelia, was named after after the Flemish botanist, Matthias de L’Obel (1538-1616).  It can grow 2-3 feet with spikes of flowers or florets that open from bottom to top.  The flowers are so unusual having 3 petals at the bottom with 2 at the top with dark green leaves that are red tinged on new growth.




Growing Conditions

L. cardinalis thrives on rich, wet soil which remains moist year-round.  It will tolerate amended sand or clay as well as preferring filtered light.  Since the roots require moisture year round, mulching under the leaves helps although the base of the plant should not be covered in winter with leaves or mulch.  It is best to plant them in open wet areas to avoid smothering the plant.  I will have to be diligent when I plant more of these in the future to make sure I site them carefully.

IMG_3507Planting them on the edge of a marsh or pond will keep the plant growing especially in dry summers.  I have mine planted in wet areas of the garden and in the rain gardens amongst the ostrich ferns, rudbeckias, Joe Pye and asters.  They can survive dry stretches, but not for long periods of time.

Cardinal flowers are said to last 7 to 10 years so it is important to propagate more every few years to keep them going.  I will have to work on this next year as many of mine are vanishing in the garden.

These plants can be propagated by seeds, cuttings and divisions.  Seeds ripen about 6-7 weeks after forming as lower flowers on the stalk fade. The seed capsule will open slightly at the top, and it is important to get the seed before it scatters far and wide by wind.  Store dried, cleaned seed in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about 3 months before planting.  The seeds can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three years.

Plant the seeds very thinly and cover with a dusting of soil.  Water the pots from the bottom.  They germinate in about a week in warm soil, but continue to grow slowly.

This plant is easily propagated by dividing it in spring or fall.  To do so you divide the young plants which form around the older base each year.  Make sure to water them well for many weeks.

Another  means of propagation is to bend down the stem down to the soil and fasten it with rocks or sticks for several weeks in the summer. This allows roots and small sets of leaves to form a new plant.

Stem cuttings can be rooted in mid-summer.




Where Are They Found

L. cardinalis is found from southeastern Canada through the eastern and southwestern United States; from the plains to to the Rockies and IMG_7883into California, Mexico and Central America to northern Colombia.

This native plant was introduced to Europe in the 1620s.  Canadian explorers sent it to France initially, but it quickly gained fame and was used widely in European gardens by 1629.

It is found in in its native habitat along ditches, woods edge, stream banks, swamps or ponds, prairies and meadows.




Benefits to Wildlife

Cardinal Flower blooms when ruby-throated hummingbirds are getting ready to migrate south.  The scarlet flowers are magnets for this bird so it is no surprise that hummingbirds actually pollinate this flower.  I have some on the pond edge so I can see the hummers up close.  You can also plant them in containers in a tray of water to give the plant enough moisture to entice the hummers closer.  I might try this next year.  You can barely see the hummer in this fuzzy picture near the pond lobelias.

IMG_8093Other insects cannot easily get into the long tubular flowers.

Lobelia cardinalis also attracts birds, butterflies, and to a lesser degree deer.  Deer will browse the new shoots as I have found.

They are said to be prone to slugs although I have not noticed much if any damage from slugs on my plants.




Folklore and Tales

The name Cardinal flower is said to refer to the bright red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals, and inspired Linnaeus to give the species name cardinalis.

Many American Indians used this plant’s roots in a tea to cure for stomach ailments and typhoid. A tea made from the leaves was used for IMG_3591colds, bronchial problems, fevers and headaches.  The Zuni people use this plant externally for rheumatism and to reduce swelling.

The finely ground roots in food was said to be an aphrodisiac.  It was also used  in love potions and placed in food as a love charm.

The Penobscot tribe smoked or chewed the dried leaves instead of tobacco.

The plant contains a number of alkaloids and is considered to be toxic if eaten in large quantities.

Lobelia is being studied , and is said to be a possible drug for neurological disorders.

Cardinal flower was named by North American naturalists and botanists in the late 1940s as the showiest and most interesting wild herbaceous plant.

In the Victorian language of flowers, the Lobelia cardinalis symbolizes Distinction.  A perfect description of this most beautiful flower.



Whence is yonder flower so strangely bright?
Would the sunset’s last reflected shine
Flame so red from that dead flush of light?
Dark with passion is its lifted line,
Hot, alive, amid the falling night.
Dora Read Goodale—Cardinal Flower






Seasonal Celebrations is coming December 1st (although the post will be up on Nov. 29th).  I hope you will join in as we celebrate the changing of the season.  The Winter Solstice will be upon us here in the North and the Summer Solstice in the South.  Details below!


Come Join Us:

Seasonal Celebrations is a time for marking the change of seasons and what is happening in your part of the world during this time.  I hope you will join in by creating a post telling us how you celebrate this time of year whether winter or summer or something else.  Share your traditions, holidays, gardens and celebrations in pictures, poetry or words starting December 1st.  I will post a bit early though around November 29th or 30th.

And it seems so appropriate to collaborate with Beth and her Lessons Learned meme.  What lessons have you learned this past season of fall here in the North and spring in the South.  Then tell us about your wishes, desires and dreams for this new season.The rules are simple.  Just create a post that talks about lessons learned and/or seasonal celebrations.  If you are joining in for both memes please leave a comment on both our blog posts.  Or if you are choosing to join only one meme, leave a comment on that blog post.  Make sure to include a link with your comment.

Beth and I will do a summary post of our respective memes on the solstice (the 20th of December).  And we will keep those posts linked on a page on our blog.  Your post should be linked in the weekend before the equinox to give us enough time to include your post in our summary.  And if you link in a bit late, never fear we will include it on the special blog page (which I still have to create).  The badges here can be used in your post.   So won’t you join in the celebration!!


Next up on the blog:  Friday brings the next Seasonal Celebrations.  And then it is December and another Gardens Eye Journal as we look back at the November garden.

I wrote a guest post over at Vision and Verb.  I hope you will visit this wonderful website of women writers.

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my next post on the 10th.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

sharetheloveI am also joining in I Heart Macro with Laura@Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.
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