Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal flower

Campanulaceae (Bellflower Family)

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)
Marcus, Joseph A.
This 1-6 ft. perennial has showy, red flowers in 8 in., terminal spikes. Each flower has three spreading lower petals and two upper petals, all united into a tube at the base. Erect leafy stems, often in clusters, with racemes of flowers resembling flaming red spires. The lower portion of the erect stem is lined with lance-shaped leaves.

Although relatively common, overpicking this handsome wildflower has resulted in its scarcity in some areas. Since most insects find it difficult to navigate the long tubular flowers, Cardinal Flower depends on hummingbirds, which feed on the nectar, for pollination. Its common name alludes to the bright red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals. In southern Arizona, Sierra Madre Lobelia (L. laxiflora) is also found; its corolla is red with yellow lobes or all yellow.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Fruit Type: Capsule
Leaf: Dark Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Sepals 5. Petals 5 fused zygomorphic. Stamens 5 fused by their lower parts. Carpels 5 fused inferior.
Fruit: Blue
Size Class: 3-6 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red
Bloom Time: May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep , Oct


USA: AL , AZ , AR , CA , CO , CT , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , IA , KS , KY , LA , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , MS , MO , NE , NV , NH , NJ , NM , NY , NC , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , UT , VT , VA , WV , WI , DC
Canada: MB , NB , ON , QC , SK
Native Distribution: S. N.B. to Ont. & s.e. MN, s. to FL, TX & s. CA; south through Mexico and Central America to northern South America
Native Habitat: Ditches, Ravines, Depressions, Woodlands edge, Opening, Stream banks, Roadsides, Prairie, Plains, Meadows, Pastures, Savannahs, Near lakes or ponds, Swamps

Growing Conditions

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.


Use Ornamental: Aromatic, Color, Showy, Garden, Perennial garden
Use Wildlife: In bloom, cardinal flower attracts hummingbirds. Nectar-Hummingbirds
Use Medicinal: Amerindians used root tea for stomach aches, syphilis, typhoid, worms. Leaf tea used for colds, croup, nosebleeds, fevers, headaches, rheumatism. Poisonous. (Foster & Duke) Roots, finely ground, placed in food said to be an aphrodisiac. (Weiner)
Use Other: Used mainly in love potions. Finely chopped roots places in food as love charm.
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.)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds , Hummingbirds , Butterflies
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate

Last Update: 2016-10-06