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Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)
Brundage, Stephanie

Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis L.

Cardinal Flower

Campanulaceae (Bellflower Family)

Synonym(s): Lobelia cardinalis ssp. graminea, Lobelia cardinalis var. graminea, Lobelia cardinalis var. meridionalis, Lobelia cardinalis var. multiflora, Lobelia cardinalis var. phyllostachya, Lobelia cardinalis var. propinqua, Lobelia cardinalis var. pseudosplendens, Lobelia fulgens, Lobelia splendens

USDA Symbol: LOCA2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

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.


From the Image Gallery

102 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Inflorescence: Raceme
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Up to about 6 feet tall.
Leaf: Dark Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: In terminal racemes. Resupinate. Zygomorphic. Sepals 5. Petals 5 fused. Stamens 5 fused by their lower parts. Carpels 5 fused inferior.

Bloom Information

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


USA: AL , AR , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WI , WV
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, Savannas, Near lakes or ponds, Swamps

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium , High
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Wet
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Drought Tolerance: Low
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
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 , Butterflies , Hummingbirds
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate


Propagation Material: Seeds
Seed Collection: As seeds approach maturity, the capsule opens slightly at its top. Check capsules at both upper and lower portions of the stalk. Store dried, cleaned seed in a sealed, refrigerated container up to three years.
Seed Treatment: This species requires or benefits from a three month period of cold-moist stratification in the refrigerator.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

Order seed of this species from Native American Seed and help support the Wildflower Center.

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Native plants to stop pond bank erosion
June 04, 2008
I recently purchased a home with a small pond in which a nearby stream daylights. The former owner placed large field stone around the pond and the small stream; however, the area around the pond and...
view the full question and answer

Sedges and ornamentals for shade in Bastrop County
June 20, 2007
I bought a home in Elgin, TX that was owned by an elderly woman. Most of the lawn is shaded by elm or pecan trees. In the sunny areas, i got native wildflowers to grow like lantana and coneflower,...
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Native plants for seasonal poor drainage
May 16, 2006
I have an area in my front yard that has a drainage ditch running through it. When it rains, that area stays very wet. What kind of plants available for sale will work in this situation?
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National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Fredericksburg Nature Center - Fredericksburg, TX
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX
Pineywoods Native Plant Center - Nacogdoches, TX
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Nueces River Authority - Uvalde, TX
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
NPSOT - Williamson County Chapter - Georgetown, TX
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE

Wildflower Center Seed Bank

LBJWC-618 Collected 2007-10-21 in Travis County by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

1 collection(s) available in the Wildflower Center Seed Bank


Bibref 928 - 100 easy-to-grow native plants for Canadian gardens (2005) Johnson, L.; A. Leyerle
Bibref 1207 - Earth Medicine, Earth Food (1990) Michael A. Weiner
Bibref 417 - Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (2000) Foster, S. & J. A. Duke
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 946 - Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes (2002) Wasowski, Sally
Bibref 765 - McMillen's Texas Gardening: Wildflowers (1998) Howard, D.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 248 - Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1984) Loughmiller, C. & L. Loughmiller
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.
Bibref 328 - Wildflowers of Texas (2003) Ajilvsgi, Geyata.
Bibref 286 - Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country (1989) Enquist, M.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Research Literature

Reslit 222 - Plasticity of physiology in Lobelia: Testing for adaptation and constraint (2006) C. M. Caruso, H. Maherali and M. Sherrard
Reslit 221 - Genetic variance and covariance for physiological traits in Lobelia: Are there constraints on adaptive evolution? (2005) C. M. Caruso, H. Maherali, A. Mikulyuk, K. Carlson...
Reslit 685 - From horticultural plantings into wild populations: movement of pollen and genes in Lobelia cardinalis (2008) L. M. K. Johnson and L. F. Galloway
Reslit 688 - Natural Selection on Floral Traits in Two Species of Lobelia with Different Pollinators (1991) M. O. Johnston
Reslit 690 - Effects of Cross and Self-Fertilization on Progeny Fitness in Lobelia cardinalis and L. siphilitica (1992) M. O. Johnston
Reslit 1087 - Phenotypic plasticity of growth trajectories in two species of Lobelia in response to nutrient availability (1997) M. Pigliucci, P. Diiorio and C. D. Schlichting
Reslit 1346 - Growth, gas exchange, and chlorophyll fluorescence of four ornamental herbaceous perennials during water deficit conditions (2006) T. Starman and L. Lombardini
Reslit 1387 - Phenetic analysis of morphological variation in the Lobelia cardinalis complex (Campanulaceae: Lobelioideae) (1997) S. W. Thompson and T. G. Lammers
Reslit 2200 - Tests of Two Hypotheses Concerning Pollen Competition in a Self-Compatible, Long-Styled Species (Lobelia cardinalis: Lobeliaceae) (1993) M. O. Johnston
Reslit 2205 - Pollen and ovule sources affect seed production of Lobelia cardinalis (Lobeliaceae) (1992) C. D. Schlichting and B. Devlin

This information was provided by the Florida WIldflower Foundation.
Search More Titles in Research Literature

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1993 VOL. 10, NO.2 - Berry Browsing in the Backyard, Director\'s Report, Essays on Trillium\'s, Natio...
Wildflower Newsletter 1996 VOL. 13, NO.3 - Hummingbird Gardening, Blooms Beget Butterflies, Butterflies and Hummingbirds Fo...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Lobelia cardinalis in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Lobelia cardinalis in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Lobelia cardinalis


Record Modified: 2023-02-16
Research By: AMS

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