August 15, 2011

Cardinal Flower

This is one of my favorite summer perennials, and our resident hummingbirds agree. 

It is Lobelia cardinalis.  Cardinal flower.  You can see why it is called that --- the red is intense.  The hummingbirds exhaust themselves zipping from stem to stem to feed, over and over.

There is a cultivar called 'Ruby Slippers' that is a deep wine color.

The color was too dark and saturated to be seen from far away, it just disappeared.  So I moved it to the patio wall where I see it up close and can marvel at the velvety rich hue.

But the cardinal red species is an eye popper even from far away in my back garden.  I need more of these to make a bigger impact, but they are hard to locate at local garden centers.  No one carries them, although the center I went to last week will order them for me.  My small stand isn't big enough to divide yet.

They want full sun and very moist, wet soil.  Mine get some late shade under a large maple, but they do see the sun most of the day.  The area of the back garden where I have them planted is damp, but when hot dry summer bakes the soil, I water the cardinal flowers frequently.

I don't know why local centers don't have them in stock routinely.  Lobelia cardinalis is the kind of plant that would tempt anyone shopping for color, tall structure and hummingbird magnets in their gardens.


  1. I enjoy the bright red of native lobelia in the wild but the color does not work in my planting scheme. Is Ruby Slippers really deep wine? If so it might work for me ... and you've opened my eyes to a distinct possibility.

  2. Joene, Ruby Slippers is a very velvety wine purple, almost mahogany, and quite dark. It needs other bright things around it, and is best admired close up since the velvet-matte color doesn't shine from a distance. But it really is rich looking (I don't see the hummers visit it so much though.)

  3. This is a wildflower in our state. This weekend I saw one that stopped me in my tracks along a ditch. They grow in amazingly difficult situations in the wild. I guess once established they will do ok. I have tried to grow them many times without success. They are not offered in any nursery I am aware of around here. I love that red.

  4. Ruby Slippers is a stunner. It is indeed a marvellous colour. A huge stand of the red Cardinal would look fantastic, so I wish you well in your task of finding more. Love that grasshopper sitting on the tree stump, by the way!

  5. I don't have enough moisture for lobelia so I grow silene regia instead, which of course, I have to order. Your lobelia look happy and healthy and the hummers must think they're in heaven! :o)

  6. Lisa, I have heard they are difficult to grow in cultivation, but my little stand has grown nicely with little attention from me.

    Bernie, I bring my little brass grasshopper inside for the winter. It's supposed to be good luck for a homeowner to have a grasshopper on the hearth!

    TS, The hummers are beside themselves with the lobelia, the red sage and the black & blue sage. They are busy guys.

  7. Laurrie, I bought a cardinal flower plant on impulse one spring, but sadly, it failed to survive. Unless I create a bog garden (and I want to at some point), plants like this who depend on moist soil simply don't make it through our summer dry spells. I absolutely agree with you that it is very striking plant with its vivid red flowers.

  8. Lobelia is a fave of mine too because of the form and bright color, but I do not have them in my garden. I enjoy them elsewhere, like here on your blog.

  9. Laurrie,
    I have not grown this one because I don't have a nice moist spot. I understand that they are rather short lived, but will reproduce readily from seed if they find a spot that they like.

  10. Jennifer, I hope you get a bog garden going, and plant some lobelias in it. I'd love to see what else goes in your bog!

    Donna, bright reds can be hard to use in a mixed planting, but these really are rich and vivid and they work well.

    Curtis, I guess I can see why centers don't carry these. Between the need for wet conditions and being short lived, they aren't an easy no-fuss plant for most gardeners. I hope mine will reseed, but no sign of that yet, so I buy more each year.

  11. I do believe plants go in cycles of popularity, don't you? Right now it seems the Huechera and Penstemon and Butterfly type bushes are all the rage. I certainly don't have a wet area, but I sure could use either of those red perennials. Can you believe--I have zero red in my borders!?
    I really like that bleached stump you have in that photo. Such a stark contrast, don't you think!?

  12. Sissy, I agree about the cycles of popularity with plants, I've seen it too.

    There is a story to the bleached stump in the garden that involves me ingloriously rolling the thing home on my hands and knees, as it was too heavy to carry. It was a find along a roadside, and I had to have it.

  13. Hi Laurie,
    I have also been enjoying the cardinal flower this year. I bought three called 'Fan Scarlet' and they are a gorgeous vibrant red. They have been blooming over two months now. The foliage is also a pretty purplish color. This plant is an all around winner in my garden!

    I also love your stump.

  14. Zoey, I finally did find some more at a garden center last week, so I am adding more. They are called 'Fan Dark Red' which sounds like your 'Fan Scarlet', but I can't say the leaves are purplish (they do have just a tinge of maroon at the leaf edges). But the beautiful red flowers are the same as the species!


Sorry about requiring code verification -- I experimented with turning it off to make commenting easier, and I got too much spam. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and to type in silly codes. I appreciate hearing from you.