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Monday - November 09, 2009

From: Rock Island, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Fall care for Fan Scarlet lobelia in Rock Island IL
Answered by: Barbara Medford


What do I do with Scarlet Fan lobelia in the fall; do I cut it back or let it go as is?


This is apparently one of those occasions when a plant retailer felt that the regular name for a plant wasn't exciting enough to be a good seller. When we searched on "lobelia" in our Native Plant Database, we found 17 members of the genus Lobelia native to North America and 8 of them  native to Illinois, but none had the common name 'Scarlet Fan." So, we searched on the Internet for that name and found this Greenhouse Product News Lobelia cardinalis 'Fan Scarlet'. It turns out that it is Lobelia cardinalis (cardinalflower), a very nice herbaceous blooming plant native to Illinois. 

So, back to our Native Plant Database, we found these Growing Conditions for the plant:

"Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Wet , Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Moist to wet, humus-rich soil. Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Limestone-based, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Clay
Conditions Comments: Cardinal flower has very showy red blooms. It is particularly attractive at the edge of a woodland garden. The soil must be kept moist or wet at all times. A winter mulching in northern climes is beneficial. It can be propagated by bending a stem down into the mud and fastening it with a rock or sticks."

Since it is a perennial, we would recommend cutting it back to about 6 inches from the ground, marking the place where your new plants will emerge from the roots in the Spring.  This should help you identify your plant so you don't think those little green leaves coming up are weeds and yank them out. Also, notice that mulch is recommended in northern areas, which we would consider Illinois to be. 

One other thing from our Database we felt we should mention is:

"Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: All parts. Toxic only if eaten in large quantities. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, salivation, exhaustion and weakness, dilation of pupils, convulsions, and coma. Toxic Principle: Alkaloids lobelamine, lobeline, and others, plus a volatile oil. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)"

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis





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